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Judge To Determine Whether Teen Sex Trafficking Victim Will Get Jail For Killing Alleged Rapist

Pieper Lewis stabbed Zachary Brooks more than 30 times in 2020 after she alleged that the 37-year-old raped her and she was overcome with "rage."

By Jill Sederstrom
Human Trafficking and Sex Ring Busts

An Iowa teenager who killed her alleged rapist could face significant time behind bars.

Pieper Lewis, 17, was slated to be sentenced for the stabbing death of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks on Wednesday but a judge pushed back the date until next week after a long day of witness testimony, according to KCCI.

Lewis was just 15 years old when she stabbed Brooks to death more than 30 times after an alleged sexual assault in June of 2020.

Lewis was initially charged with first-degree murder in Brooks’ death that same year, but agreed to plead guilty in June 2021 to charges of voluntary manslaughter and willful injury.

She could face up to 10 years in prison for each charge. A judge will now be tasked with determining whether the teen belongs in prison, the foster care system or a structured community release program, according to The Des Moines Register.

The months leading up to Brooks’ death had been tumultuous period for the teen, who had repeatedly run away from home and started sleeping in the hallway of a Des Moines building, according to her plea agreement obtained by People.

She initially moved in with a man living in the building but left after he became “verbally, physically and sexually abusive to me,” Lewis wrote in a statement included with the plea.

She moved instead into the apartment of another 28-year-old man who lived across the hall in mid-April of 2020, but that relationship was also fraught with danger, she said. According to her account, Lewis said the man began to use her for sex trafficking after creating a dating profile on a website and arranging for her to have sex with men for money.

In May of 2020, she was introduced to Brooks, who she said sexually assaulted her repeatedly over a three-day period.

She resisted an attempt by her alleged sex trafficker to send her to Brooks’ home again later that month, but she said the man held a knife to her neck and forced her to go.

“He told me that I needed to ‘turn that trick’ to ‘get us some weed,’” she wrote.

Brooks picked up Lewis, who was 15 years old, in a parking lot on May 31.

She alleged that after they returned to his apartment, he forced her to drink vodka and smoke pot before raping her. The age of consent in the state of Iowa is 16 years old.

Lewis said after the alleged attack she grabbed a knife from his night stand and attacked Brooks, who had fallen asleep.

“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me yet again and was overcome with rage," she said in the statement. "Without thinking, I immediately grabbed the knife from his nightstand and began stabbing him.”

Lewis was arrested on June 2, 2020. Prosecutors have never disputed that Lewis was a victim of sex trafficking or sexual assault.

In court Wednesday, Megan Hoxhalli, a social worker for Lutheran Services in Iowa, took the stand to describe how the 28-year-old man she had been living with abused her in the months leading up to the deadly stabbing.

“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 Mr. Brown in exchange for that,” she said, according to local station WHO.

Hoxhalli added that it took months for Lewis to open up to her and described her as being “terrified.”

Juvenile Court Services Officer Whitney Buchanan took the stand for the prosecution and told the judge that the teen did seem to understand that killing Brooks had harmed his family.

“She did recognize how this has gotten her in this situation and how she could potentially be locked up and not able to go home,” Buchanan said, according to The Des Moines Register.

The judge in the case is now tasked with determining what sentence Lewis should receive for the crimes.

Neurologist Dr. Robert Kinscherff testified Wednesday that it was a “complicated situation” because while child welfare interventions could address her needs as a victim, they often lacked accountability.

He described the teen as someone who “straddles both of these worlds.” He believed she needed a program that helped her realize how her choices resulted in her being “vulnerable to exploitation by other persons” and worried that without that form of intervention he could “fall back into that particular life,” the paper reports.

Others testified to the struggles Lewis had experienced while briefly living at the Highland House youth home program. Her stint at the program ended after she had broken program rules and reached out to others, including her sister. After contacting the people, the 28-year-old man she had been living with, who has yet to face any criminal charges, was able to discover her location, putting her and others at risk, authorities said.

Jana Rhoads, a Des Moines service manager with the Iowa Department of Human Services, testified that the program failed because it “didn’t provide her all the support and services she needed.”

She suggested Lewis could be placed in foster care—where she wouldn’t be forced to age out until the age of 23—but prosecutors questioned how she could succeed in a less restrictive environment after her struggles at youth home program.

Dan Larson, a program administrator at the Polk County Juvenile Detention Center, also took the stand to weigh in, saying that he was worried that prison time could damage her more.

“There’s a lot of freedom of the inmates in Mitchellville that could be a very bad influence on Pieper,” he said, referring to the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville.

He suggested either probation or a community release program.

The judge in the case is expected to announce the teen’s sentence at a hearing on Tuesday.

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