An Iowa teenager ordered to pay restitution to the family of a man who sexually abused her has received aid from thousands of supporters.
Pieper Lewis was 15 years old when she ran away from home. After bouncing around, she eventually started living with Christopher Brown, 28, who she said forced her to have sex with other men. She fatally stabbed one of those men 30 times and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury in June 2021. On Tuesday, a Polk County District sentenced Lewis to five years of probation, ordered her to pay $150,000 to the slain man’s family and complete 200 hours of community service.
By Wednesday afternoon, a fundraising account created by Lewis’ former teacher had amassed more than $209,000 in donations. Leland Schipper said the money would be used to pay off the debt to the man’s family and other restitution and remove any financial or educational barriers she may have.
“As I grow and change as a young woman, I feel for the victim’s family. I wish what happened never did,” Lewis, now 17, said during her sentencing hearing. “And I truly feel that way.”
Lewis’ attorney said she left home because of an abusive relationship with her adoptive mother. It led her to run away thrice from January 2020 through March 2020. Court records show Lewis was sexually assaulted at the Youth Emergency Services Shelter the second time she ran away. When she told the woman who had adopted her from foster care about the assault, she accused her of being promiscuous. That prompted Lewis to run away again, her attorneys said.
Reports show she first stayed with a classmate’s older sister in exchange for babysitting services. When that no longer worked out, Lewis started sleeping in the apartment hallway. A 40-year-old male neighbor offered her a place to sleep, but reports show he gave her cocaine and tried to take advantage of her. So she returned to sleeping on the ground of Oakview Terrace Apartment Complex in Des Moines, Iowa.
Brown also lived in the building. He told authorities he saw Lewis sleeping in the hallway, felt sorry for her, and took her in, reports show. Lewis believed Brown was her boyfriend. She said in her plea agreement Brown signed her up for dating sites and pimped her out to men online. Lewis said the man, nearing 30, made her have sex with men for money seven or eight times between April 2020 to June 2, 2020.
In May 2020, Brown pawned Lewis off to his acquaintance Zachary Brooks while his mother and daughter came to visit. The 37-year-old man gave Lewis marijuana and alcohol and then had sex with her five times while she was unconscious.
“Mr. Brown told me that Mr. Brooks would want to have sex with me since he was allowing me to stay with him,” she wrote in her statement. “I did not want to have sex with Mr. Brooks because I believed that Mr. Brown was my boyfriend. I did not want to go to Mr. Brooks’ apartment but I had no other place to go.”
Brown told Lewis he wanted her to have sex with Brooks again in exchange for $50 worth of “weed,” but Lewis refused. She said Brown put a knife to his throat until she agreed. The teenager said Brooks got her intoxicated again and raped her. When she woke up and realized what happened, Lewis was enraged. She found a knife in a box on the nightstand and attacked Brooks while lying in bed.
“She stabbed this man multiple times, and the reason she did that was because she was put in a human trafficking situation,” said one of Lewis’ attorneys Matthew S. Sheeley.
Prosecutors argued since Brooks was asleep at the time, so he was not an immediate threat.
Lewis took a shower and drove the dead’s man Dodge Charger back to Brown’s apartment, “striking some parked cars and a pole on the way.” Brown cleaned the car, posted some of its parts for sale online, and told Lewis to lie if the police contacted her. She was arrested the following day, June 2, 2020.
“I never saw or heard from Mr. Brown since that day,” her statement said.
Lewis’ crimes could have put her in adult prison for up to 10 years. She has already spent more than two years in a juvenile detention center. The probation sentence handed down by Polk County District Judge David M. Porter on Tuesday is a deferred judgment, meaning if she violates the terms, she could serve 20 years in prison. However, her guilty plea would be expunged if she follows through with her probation requirements, according to reports.
Porter also ordered Lewis to wear a GPS tracking device and reside in the Fresh Start Women’s Center so she doesn’t fall “back into the lifestyle that” she “thus far left.”
The teenager obtained her high school diploma while at the detention center, designed a jersey for a minor league basketball team and joined the Youth Justice Counsel.
“I took a person’s life,” Lewis told the judge. “My intentions that day were not to just to go out and take somebody’s life. In my mind, I felt that I wasn’t safe, and I felt that I was in danger, which resulted in the acts. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that a crime was committed.”
Lewis’ attorneys said Brown should be charged for aiding and abetting sex trafficking. Polk County attorney John Sarcone, told The New York Times: “The matter is still pending and we do not comment on pending matters.”