Court hearing to determine fate of sex trafficking victim Pieper Lewis again delayed

A hearing Thursday to determine whether Pieper Lewis will go to prison for violating her probation in the stabbing death of a man who she said had repeatedly raped her has again been delayed, this time to May 31.

Polk County District Judge David M. Porter on Wednesday for the second time approved a delay in the hearing, originally set for January, after Lewis' attorneys sought additional time so she can undergo a new psychological evaluation and they can line up expert witnesses to testify for her. Prosecutors did not object.

During a Thursday morning hearing with prosecutors and Lewis' attorneys, Porter set the hearing for 9 a.m. May 31 at the Polk County Criminal Courts Building. Lewis did not appear in court.

She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and willful injury in the June 1, 2020, killing of Zachary Brooks, which occurred when she was 15. Porter in September gave her a deferred judgment and five years' probation, to be served at the Fresh Start Women's Center in Des Moines, after prosecutors and her defense attorneys concurred that she had been a victim of sex trafficking.

More:After walking away from 'second chance,' will sex trafficking victim Pieper Lewis go to prison?

Lewis arrived at Fresh Start on Sept. 28, her 18th birthday, and landed a job at a downtown Des Moines pizzeria. But on Nov. 4, she cut off her GPS tracking device and left the 48-bed transitional center.

Arrested four days later, she has pleaded guilty to escape and remains in the Polk County Jail.

Pieper Lewis pleads guilty to an escape charge in Polk County Court, Thursday, March 9, 2023.
Pieper Lewis pleads guilty to an escape charge in Polk County Court, Thursday, March 9, 2023.

In her first interviews since she was sentenced in September, Lewis told the Des Moines Register she left Fresh Start because she felt overwhelmed and endangered, cut off from her job and therapy while quarantined with roommates who had COVID-19.

The center also was in the same neighborhood where, as a runaway from a home where she clashed with her adoptive mother, she had lived with the trafficker who forced her to have sex with him and several other men. They included Brooks, who she said she killed in his apartment on May 31, 2020, after he raped her ― and who had raped her five times previously.

Why Pieper Lewis fled the women's center, despite judge's warning of 'no third chance'

"Being trapped in a room again kind of reminded me of my past life," Lewis, who spent more than two years in juvenile detention awaiting sentencing, told the Register of her decision to leave Fresh Start. "It made me feel like I was locked up again. So I felt like I had to take matters into my own hands for my safety."

Lewis' case received national attention after a Register investigative report found no record that police had investigated the sex trafficking allegations, though sex with a 15-year-old is a crime in Iowa. Lewis' trafficker still has not been charged.

She could face as many as 21 years in prison if Porter revokes her probation.

More:As Pieper Lewis faces prison, supporters say Iowa's lack of a girls home is partly to blame

Lewis said she still dreams of being an artist, a business owner and a criminal justice reform advocate, but for now, “I just want to hear an answer to get it over with. Whether I’m released again, or further incarcerated, I want a plan that is solid for when I am on my own.”

Philip Joens covers public safety, retail, real estate and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-284-8184, or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Hearing that could send Pieper Lewis to prison delayed again