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Pieper Lewis was 15 years old when she was raped by 37-year-old Zachary Brooks. Now 17, Lewis has spent the last two years in a juvenile detention facility awaiting trial for the manslaughter of Brooks, who had taken part in her sex trafficking. After pleading guilty, Lewis was ordered to pay Brooks' family $150,000.


Lewis ran away from home at 15 to escape an abusive stepmother. After experiencing homelessness and sleeping in an apartment building's stairwell, she was taken in by Christopher Brown, 28, who began forcing Lewis to have sex with men in exchange for money and drugs.

One of the men was Brooks, who Lewis stabbed to death after he raped her at knifepoint. Lewis was charged with first-degree murder, then pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury, both carrying prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Instead of sending her to an adult prison, the residing judge David Porter sentenced Lewis to five years of supervised probation, and ordered her to pay $150,000 to Brooks' family.

“The court is cognizant that you and your supporters will be frustrated with the imposition of the $150,000 in restitution to Mr. Brooks’ estate," Porter said. "This court is presented with no other option, other than which is dictated by the law of this state.”

Iowa law states that anyone convicted of killing a person is required to pay the individual’s family $150,000, regardless of circumstances. An additional $4,000 is owed to the state.

At the sentencing hearing, Lewis gave a prepared statement about the suffering she had endured, both at the hands of her abusers, and in the 834 days she spent in jail awaiting trial. Lewis earned her GED in the two years she was detained, with no contact to friends or family.

“My spirit has been burned but still glows through the flames," she said. "Hear me roar, see me glow, and watch me grow. I am a survivor.”

Prosecution during the trial would not allow Lewis to refer to herself as a "victim," claiming she stabbed Brooks while he was asleep and therefore "was not a threat" to her. Both police and prosecutors do not doubt that she was sexually assaulted by Brooks prior to the killing.

Lewis has also never denied stabbing Brooks, and has stated she "regrets what happened that day."

“I took a person’s life. My intentions that day were not to just to go out and take somebody’s life," she told Porter. "In my mind, I felt that I wasn’t safe and I felt that I was in danger, which resulted in the acts. It doesn’t take away from the fact that a crime was committed. But to say there is one victim is absurd.”

In response to Lewis' sentence, her former math teacher, Leland Schipper, began an online fundraiser to assure Lewis would not have to cover the restitution costs herself, and so that she could restart her life by attending college or starting a business going forward.

"Today, my former student, Pieper Lewis bravely took the microphone during her sentencing hearing and told the courtroom that her voice mattered," he wrote on the campaign page. "I was incredibly proud of her. She was powerful, and she brought me to tears."

Schipper continued: "Pieper does not owe that man’s family justice. Pieper does not deserve to be finically burdened for the rest of her life because the state of Iowa wrote a law that fails to give judges any discretion as to how it is applied. This law doesn’t make sense in many cases, but in this case, it’s morally unjustifiable. A child who was raped, under no circumstances, should owe the rapist’s family money."

Schipper set the fundraiser's goal at $200,000. It has since received nearly $600,000.

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