DES MOINES, Iowa — 17-year-old Pieper Lewis entered and exited the Polk County Courthouse shackled and wearing a blue jumpsuit, but without a sentence.
Defense and prosecution attorneys were in court Wednesday trying to determine how much prison time she serves and where for admittedly killing a man she said was abusive to her.
Lewis pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and willful injury against 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, who allegedly assaulted and raped her at 15 years old. She was originally charged with first-degree murder.
According to court documents, Lewis stabbed Brooks in the chest, arms and groin on June 1, 2020, which led to his death. This came after days of abuse from Brooks, who was introduced to her via the sex trafficking scheme she was stuck in.
The defense called six witnesses to the stand to testify about her actions, what led up to her stabbing Brooks and how she's doing now.
In Lewis' guilty plea, she shared that she ran away from home three times between January and March 2020 and ended up sleeping in the hallway of a Des Moines building.
She stayed with a man in the building for a short time and left when he became verbally, physically and sexually abusive toward her. From there, she moved into Christopher Brown's apartment across the hall.
Her guilty plea reads in part:
"Mr. Brown created a dating profile for me and placed it on dating websites. Mr. Brown would then arrange for me to have sex with men for money. This happened approximately seven to eight times while I lived in his apartment."
Brooks was one of the men she was forced to interact sexually with before the killing.
Expert witness Dr. Robert Kinscherff, a William James College professor, described her as someone who has depression, anxiety and had a bad childhood.
When it comes to sentencing Lewis, the witness said he feels as though she shouldn't do time in a prison-like environment.
"Pieper is a complicated situation cause she straddles both of these worlds ... I would recommend a course of continued psychotherapy from which she seems to have benefited substantially addressing her anxiety, her depression and her post-traumatic symptoms," Kinscherff said.
Kinscherff said Lewis needs to be in an environment like a foster home where there are stricter rules, but she is still allowed to grow and overcome what she did.
Prosecutors argue Lewis needs to go to prison because she isn't healed from what she did and her over 700 days in juvenile detention did not help her grow.
The sentencing hearing will continue Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 9 a.m. In total, Lewis faces up to 20 years in prison.