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A woman who was serving probation for killing her rapist while being sex trafficked has escaped state custody and may now have to serve her entire 20-year sentence in prison.
Pieper Lewis, 18, allegedly left the Fresh Start Women's Center in Des Moines, Iowa without permission at around 6:19 a.m. on Friday, according to a probation report obtained by the Des Moines Register, and then cut off her GPS ankle monitor.
The facility filed a report of her escape shortly before 11:00 a.m., requesting that a warrant be issued for her arrest for the probation violation, that her deferred sentence be revoked and that she be subject to her original sentence on the charges for which she was convicted in September.
A warrant was issued for her arrest, but she had yet to be apprehended as of Monday morning, the Register reported.
In June 2021, Lewis pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury for the June 1, 2020 death of Zachary Brooks, 37, when she was just 15 years old.
Lewis said that she had run away from an abusive home environment in early 2020, and began sleeping in an apartment building hallway in March. A man who had an apartment in the building invited her to live with him and she initially accepted, but then left after he became "verbally, physically and sexually abusive."
She moved in with a 28-year-old musician across the hall in mid-April, who referred to her as his girlfriend and began sex trafficking her, according to CNN. That man created a dating profile for the then-15-year-old girl — the age of sexual consent in Iowa is 16 — and demanded that she have sex with various men in exchange for money and drugs. When she tried to refuse, she told a social worker, he would be violent with her, an advocate told the court.
“He would become violent with her if she did not go on dates and Pieper, in detail, described being forced to have sex with people on those dates and then having to come back and bring money and drugs to [her trafficker] in exchange for that,” Megan Hoxhalli, a social worker for Lutheran Services, testified at Lewis' sentencing.
Lewis told the social worker the boyfriend also abused animals in front of her.
Her trafficker — who has yet to be charged, according to the Register — sold her to Brooks in May. Then, Lewis told the court, Brooks kept her for three days, plied her with alcohol and marijuana and assaulted her five times while she was initially unconscious, CNN reported.
After the assaults, she returned to her alleged trafficker's apartment. Then, on May 31, he demanded she return to Brooks' place.
“He told me that I needed to ‘turn that trick’ to ‘get us some weed,’” she wrote in her plea agreement. When she refused, her trafficker held a knife to her neck, drawing blood, and she acquiesced.
She told the court that Brooks met her in a parking lot, brought her back to his place, and then demanded that she drink vodka and smoke marijuana until she was again unconscious. She again regained consciousness while he was raping her.
After Brooks finished raping her, she said, she went to find her clothes and her attacker passed out. That, she told the court, was when she noticed his knife on the nightstand.
“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me yet again and was overcome with rage," she wrote in a statement accompanying her plea agreement. "Without thinking, I immediately grabbed the knife from his nightstand and began stabbing him.”
The prosecution has never contested that Lewis was trafficked by her 28-year-old boyfriend or raped by the 37-year-old Brooks, a married father of two.
She was arrested on June 2, 2020 and was initially charged with first degree murder. The charges to which she pleaded in 2021 — voluntary manslaughter and willful injury — each carry a sentence of up to 10 years.
During her sentencing in September, the judge heard that Lewis was having difficulty adjusting to both her trauma and her circumstances, and experts remained divided about the best course of action for the then-16-year-old girl. She had been assigned to a group home but had been forced out after contacting various acquaintances, including her sister, which alerted her trafficker to her location. One doctor noted the need to balance her significant needs as a survivor of sex trafficking and sexual violence, the reality of her impending adulthood and desire for personal independence, and her continued vulnerability to being exploited.
The judge had rejected a suggestion from a social worker that she be placed in foster care and opted to sentence her to five years of residential probation, calling it her "second chance" and telling her she wouldn't be afforded a third. He noted she would face significant restrictions.
“Until you reach the age of 25, your life will be highly structured,” he said in September. “Particularly for the next three years.”
If she completed her five years of supervision, the conviction would be expunged from her record.
He also ordered her to pay $150,000 in restitution to Brooks' family, which was a requirement under Iowa law. A former high school teacher of Lewis' was able to collect more than $500,000 in a GoFundMe to make her restitution payment and, the teacher said, with additional money to go to helping her attend college, start her own business and/or assist other victims of sex trafficking. (GoFundMe is reportedly holding onto all the donated funds, according to the Register.)
The probation violation report filed after her escape documents that, starting on Oct. 17, staff at the Fresh Start Women's Center began to use Lewis' GPS monitor, work schedules and city bus schedules to document variations in her route and times going to or returning from her job. They started doing so after she claimed she'd missed the last bus and got an unauthorized ride back to the facility from "a friend who she used to date in high school." They used her GPS monitor to track the car driving around the facility and eventually parking in the facility's lot for 30 minutes. She was warned to have no more contact with the otherwise unidentified friend.
Staff then used her work and bus schedules to denote times when she hadn't immediately taken the bus from the facility to work or back on the expected schedule, including one time when, instead of waiting for the bus from the central station to her job, she walked with an "unknown male" to the job, arrived 20 minutes early and sat outside talking with him. In all, staff were able to document just over four hours of time for which she could not strictly account between Oct. 13 and Oct. 30 — including one period where staff simply saw her standing by herself at a bus stop waiting for the next bus when they determined she should not have missed the first one.
The probation violation report does not state whether she was confronted about these discrepancies before she escaped on Nov. 4.
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