Donors raise money for Pieper Lewis’ return to alleged rapist

A Des Moines teen who was convicted of killing a man she said raped her has been given what a judge said was a second chance: a suspended sentence and the possibility of having her record cleared.

But there is one major hurdle. Because of an Iowa law, Polk County Magistrate Judge David M. Porter said he couldn’t avoid asking Piper Lewis to pay the man’s family $150,000.

This week, supporters posed the question for her — and then some.

GoFundMe, founded by one of Lewis’ former teachers, Leland Schipper, tops the list As of Thursday, $400,000.

More than 10,000 donors, mostly small donations, raised funds in the days following the teen’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

“I am ecstatic at the prospect of removing this burden from Peeper,” Schieper wrote in an update on the website.

Lewis, 17, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and intentional injury in the 2020 killing of Zachary Brooks, 37. In her plea, she listed a series of harrowing events that led to her getting through that night. She said she fled her precarious home life and was taken in by a 28-year-old man.

He portrayed himself as her boyfriend but forced the then 15-year-old boy to have sex with a man. Brooks is one of them, she said. She said she was outraged after he sexually assaulted her multiple times between May 30 and June 1, 2020, before falling asleep.

“I suddenly realized that Mr. Brooks had raped me again,” Lewis wrote in her plea. She grabbed a knife from his bedside table and stabbed him dozens of times.

Prosecutors did not dispute the allegation that she was trafficked, and a Polk County judge wrote that there was evidence that appeared to support her claim. However, no charges have been laid against the man she accused of trafficking her. The Des Moines Police Department did not respond to inquiries from The Washington Post about whether investigators investigated her account.

Trafficked teen kills alleged attacker as probation is ‘second chance’

In court this week, Lewis faces up to 20 years in prison. But Porter chose to complete his probation at the women’s facility. He also postponed her sentencing, which means her records will be expunged if she completes her probation.

“Miss. Lewis, this is the second chance you asked for,” he said. He added: “Good luck.”

Watching inside the courthouse, Sipper was heartened by the ruling. He told the Des Moines Chronicle that he believes the judge made a fair decision “to give compassionate justice and use the system for what it was designed to do.”

But he was shocked by the payment she demanded.

“I think people are just as appalled by the way Iowa created this law as we were with $150,000,” Schieper told the paper. “This is a clear example of complete injustice.”

By law, a person convicted of a felony causing death must pay at least $150,000 to the victim’s estate.

One of Lewis’ attorneys, Matthew Healey, argued in court that Brooks was more than 51 percent responsible for his death. Therefore, he said, she should not have paid. He called the request cruel and unusual.

“I don’t believe the Iowa legislature intends to demand that a 15-year-old girl … pay $150,000 to the rapist’s property,” he said.

While acknowledging that Lewis and her supporters would be frustrated, Porter said he did not have the discretion to waive compensation. The Des Moines Register noted that he cited a 2017 case in which the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that requiring payments from teens convicted of homicide was not unconstitutional.

“This court has no choice but to do so under the laws of this state,” he said.

After the hearing, Sheeley told the local NBC affiliate that the judge’s ruling was an overall victory and that restitution was not Lewis’ primary concern. He said she wanted to move on with her life, adding: “Her whole life was in front of her. She had all these opportunities.”

Her former teacher, Schipper, was eager to lighten the load and was excited that the fundraiser could do just that. Lewis’ lawyers told the Register they wanted to investigate the legality of using donated funds to pay compensation.

Robert Rigg, a professor of criminal law at Drake University Law School, said it was unclear what steps the court wanted Lewis or the fundraiser’s organizers to take to get the money to pay her damages. Organisers are free to give away money to Lewis, but if they try to pay directly from the fund itself, they could run into obstacles, he said.

“I would absolutely recommend that her defense attorney get the court’s guidance. Then the court can say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it,'” Rigg told the Post.

“That way you have a buffer. You follow the judge’s instructions and you are covered.”

After the first $150,000 is paid for compensation, the fund’s organizers can decide what to do with the remaining funds. Rigg said they could set up a nonprofit corporation to give the money to Lewis, or set up a trust in her name “to distribute for her health, welfare and education.”

In an earlier interview with The Washington Post, Healy and Paul White, another member of the Lewis defense, called her full of potential. She dreams of being a designer, telling her story and giving a voice to other girls like her.

“I have no doubt that whatever obstacles are in her path, she will overcome them,” Sheeley said. “She won’t let anything get in her way. Deep down in my heart, that’s how I feel.”

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