Nearly two months after receiving a delayed trial for killing a man she said raped her, Iowa teen and sex trafficking victim Pieper Lewis walked out of the residential correctional facility where he was serving parole and authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.
The teenager, who made national headlines after a judge ordered him to serve five years of probation and pay $150,000 to the family of the man he killed, has yet to be found.
Here’s what we know about his case, his escape, and what it may mean for his sentence.
Lewis, 18, left the Fresh Start Women’s Center at 6:19 a.m. Friday, according to Jerry Evans, executive director of the Fifth Judicial District Department of Corrections, who told CNN in an email Sunday that she left the facility “after being cut off.” minus his electronic tracking device.”
When he sent Evans’ email, he said Lewis’ whereabouts were unknown.
The Des Moines facility from which Lewis escaped is a residential correctional facility, according to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Department of Corrections website. It “accepts residents of diverse legal status,” who may be admitted “as parolees or parolees.” The program “aims to provide a safe and holistic approach to vision that seeks to educate, support and advocate for all women to transform their lives,” the website says.
Lewis became a resident of the center after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and malicious wounding in the death of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks when he was 15. Lewis said in her plea agreement that Brooks raped her several times in 2020.
In the plea agreement, Lewis told the judge that the series of events that led to the killing began after he ran away from home because of what he said was an abusive home environment. Finally a man took him who he believed had been trafficked, forcing him to have sex with other men in exchange for money. Brooks was one of those men, according to Lewis, who he described in his plea agreement as having been assaulted repeatedly, including while he was unconscious.
On May 31, 2020, the man Lewis lived with confronted him with a knife and forced him into Brooks’ apartment, where Lewis said he was forced to drink vodka and eventually fell asleep. At one point, she awoke to find Brooks being raped, she said.
Later, Brooks fell asleep and Lewis, “overcome with rage,” realizing he had raped her again, “immediately grabbed a knife from her nightstand and began stabbing her,” she said in the plea agreement.
Lewis was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the guilty pleas. But in September, Polk County District Judge David Porter issued a deferred judgment, meaning the claim could be dismissed if he served a probationary sentence in a residential facility.
The judge also had to impose a $150,000 restitution fee under Iowa law, the judge said. He was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and pay more than $4,000 in civil penalties.
Lewis’ case prompted the generosity of strangers who wanted to help cover the restitution: A GoFundMe page set up by his former teacher raised more than $560,000, several times the amount the teenager actually owed.
Money raised beyond the court-ordered $150,000 quota would help Lewis attend college, start his own business and “explore ways to help other young victims of sex crimes,” wrote professor Leland Schippe on the crowdsourced campaign page, which has since stopped accepting donations.
However, it was unclear whether Lewis could actually use the money to pay the fee under Iowa law, his attorneys told the Des Moines Register.
It’s not entirely clear how Lewis’ leaving the detention center might affect the sentence he received in September.
After she left the women’s center on Friday, authorities filed a “parole violation report,” Evans, a corrections officer, told CNN, “recommending that her parole be revoked.”
“A warrant of arrest was subsequently issued, which is still pending,” he said.
Lewis’ lawyer was happy with the deferred sentence, saying it would give him the chance to “live the rest of his life” in September.
“Pieper is so grateful for all the love, compassion and support he has received. Anyone who meets him immediately falls in love with him,” said attorney Matt Sheeley. “She is an extraordinary young woman of remarkable courage. And he’s surprised by all the love he’s received, he’s been surprised. We are all amazed.”
Some advocates for victims of sexual assault felt otherwise, expressing concern about Lewis’ ability to serve his sentence, given the extent of his trauma and his case echoing others in the US in recent years, in which teenagers – often people of color – have been targeted. have been legally punished or convicted of killing a sex trafficker or aggressor.
“Too often, we see a tragic pattern where the criminal justice system punishes the victims of heinous crimes, rather than the actual perpetrators,” said Lindsey Ruff, an attorney who represented the group in a brief to support Chrystul Kizer, who is serving a life sentence. She said she was forced into sex trafficking in Wisconsin for killing the man. After a state Supreme Court ruling in July, Kizer will be able to argue in court that his actions were a “direct consequence” of trafficking, a defense that could acquit him of the charges against him.
Many trafficking victims like Kizer or Lewis “suffer severe psychological effects from being trafficked, which can lead them to act in apparently abnormal ways,” Ruff said, “including those that appear self-destructive.”
“The causal link between victimization and criminality creates a cycle where victims are punished for their reactions to their trauma,” he said.