Pieper Lewis, the Iowa teenage sex trafficking victim who was sentenced to probation for fatally stabbing her alleged rapist, was on Tuesday taken back into custody after she escaped from a residential corrections facility, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced, per CNN.
The 18-year-old, who was sentenced for killing 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, had been serving her probation at the Des Moines women’s center after she received a deferred judgment for entering a guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter and willful injury. Lewis killed her alleged rapist when she was 15.
In a statement, the Iowa Department of Corrections said that authorities found the teen in Des Moines. An official at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office told the news outlet that Lewis has since been detained at the Polk County Jail, adding that she’ll appear before a court for violating her probation.
Lewis is said to have escaped from the facility on November 4. The executive director of the Fifth Judicial District Department of Corrections, Jerry Evans, told CNN that Lewis made her way out of the facility after cutting her electronic monitoring device.
In the wake of Lewis’ disappearance, a “probation violation report” was filed against her. And besides asking for a warrant for Lewis’ arrest, the report recommended that the teen’s probation be revoked.
“It is further ordered that her deferred judgments (be) revoked and original sentence imposed,” the report also stated.
Per the report, an alarm at the facility went off around 6 am, alerting workers about a door that had been opened. A staff member subsequently saw Lewis making her way out of the facility.
Authorities initially charged Lewis with first-degree murder over the 2020 killing of Brooks, The Associated Press reported. But the five-year probation sentence that was handed out to her in November came after she pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury. Lewis, who entered the plea last year, faced a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Lewis was also notified that a violation of any of the conditions of her probation could see her heading to prison.
And besides being ordered to pay $150,000 as restitution to Brooks’ family, the judge also sentenced Lewis to 200 hours of community service and ordered her to pay over $4,000 in civil penalties. Explaining the restitution that Lewis was ordered to pay, Polk County District Judge David M. Porter said at the time that the “court is presented with no other option” as the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld an Iowa law that makes restitution mandatory.
Lewis was with her alleged rapist in an apartment when she stabbed him over 30 times. She was 15 at the time of the incident. Officials said Lewis had endured an abusive life while she was with her adopted mother, and she ran away as result. She ended up sleeping in the hallways of an apartment in Des Moines. A 28-year-old man ultimately allowed her to stay with him, but he later forced her to have sex with other men by trafficking her, The Associated Press reported.
Lewis named Brooks as one of the men she was trafficked to. And in the weeks prior to the fatal incident, Lewis said Brooks raped her several times. The teen also alleged that the 28-year-old man used a knife to force her to follow Brooks to his home for sex. Lewis informed officials that she fatally stabbed Brooks after he sexually assaulted her again, adding that her actions stemmed from an outburst of anger.
Authorities have not challenged the teen’s claim that she was trafficked and sexually assaulted. But prosecutors said Lewis fatally stabbed Brooks while he was sleeping, and he did not pose a sudden danger to the teen at the time.
Some states across the United States have implemented a safe harbor law that grants a degree of criminal immunity to victims who have been trafficked. But Iowa doesn’t have that law.