Lewis, who turns 18 years old Wednesday, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury after killing Zachary Brooks, a 37-year-old father of three, who she said sexually assaulted her multiple times in the weeks leading up to his killing. Early on June 1, 2020, when Lewis was 15 years old, she stabbed Brooks to death using a knife she found on a bedside table in Brooks’ apartment after she said he assaulted her.
Polk County Judge David M. Porter gave Lewis a deferred judgment Sept. 13, a type of legal remedy where a person can have their record expunged when probation is completed. He ordered her to spend five years on probation at the Fresh Start Women’s Center in Des Moines.
Before killing Brooks, Lewis ran away from what she said was an abusive relationship with her mother early in 2020. Eventually she came to live with a 28-year-old Des Moines musician she called her “boyfriend,” who she said forced her to have sex with older men, including Brooks, for money. Prosecutors never disputed claims that Lewis was sexualcedaly assaulted or trafficked. Her trafficker still has not been charged.
Porter ordered Lewis to pay $150,000 to Brooks’ estate, citing a 1997 Iowa law that requires people convicted of felony charges in cases where people die to pay $150,000.
“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 told Lewis at her sentencing hearing. “This court is presented with no other option, other than which is dictated by the law of this state.”
Porter based his decision on a 2017 Iowa Supreme Court ruling in which a 15-year-old female in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, stabbed a man to death with her 19-year-old boyfriend while robbing another man in 2013. The 15-year-old in that case pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The teen did not appeal her prison sentence, but challenged an order to pay the estate of the man she and her boyfriend killed $150,000. The Iowa Supreme Court found that district court judges have no discretion to waive this restitution and that it is constitutional even when applied to juveniles.
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In Monday’s filing, Lewis’ attorneys Matthew Sheeley, Paul White and Magdalena Reese argued that the nature of the offenses in the two cases “bear no similarity.” Unlike the Cedar Rapids teen Lewis did not plan out the offense she was convicted of, her attorneys argued.
“Voluntary manslaughter requires an element of ‘serious provocation,'” Lewis’ legal team wrote. “The ‘serious provocation’ at issue here was the rape Pieper endured immediately before the stabbing, a rape perpetrated by Zachary Brooks.”
The Cedar Rapids teen was never forced to go along with her boyfriend’s plan to rob and kill another man, but did so anyway, according to court records. By contrast, Lewis told her trafficker on May 31, 2020, that she did not want to go to Brooks’ apartment. Her trafficker held a knife to her throat to compel her to go have sex with Brooks in exchange for $50 worth of marijuana, according to her attorneys and her plea agreement.
The Cedar Rapids case was primarily motivated by money, Lewis’ attorneys argued. The teen and her boyfriend wanted to rob the man they killed of $2,000, but only found his electronic benefit transfer card.
“There was no premeditation or plan to kill Zachary Brooks. Pieper’s offense was motivated by the sudden rage she experienced after she was raped by Mr. Brooks,” according to the attorneys, who argued that the Iowa State Legislature never intended for the law to be enforced in cases like Lewis’. Her rights under Article 1, Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution and the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, both of which prohibit excessive fines, could be violated because of the circumstances surrounding Lewis’ own victimization, they wrote.
“But for the conduct of her sex-trafficker, Pieper never would have met Mr. Brooks and Mr. Brooks, in turn, would never have had the opportunity to rape this 15-year-old homeless runaway girl,” Lewis’ attorneys argued. “The very notion that she is now required to pay $150,000.00 to the heirs of the man who raped her on the morning of June 1, 2020, is absurd.”
In a deferred judgment, a guilty verdict is technically withheld, even after a person pleads guilty and admits to the acts they are charged with. The Cedar Rapids teen did not receive a deferred judgment, which clearly shows that the cases are different, Lewis’ attorneys argued. The $150,000 award is punitive, and does not serve a remedial purpose, they argued.
“Its primary purpose is to punish the offender,” the attorneys wrote. “Pieper Lewis received a deferred judgment and therefore has not been ‘convicted of a felony.'”
If Porter does not overturn his decision, they asked him to stay his decision so they can appeal it.
Contact Philip Joens at email@example.com or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.