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In a new interview with KCCI News, Pieper Lewis said she’d like to have a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds and wants the governor to issue her a pardon. In June 2021, a then-17-year-old Lewis pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury in the death of 37-year-old Zachary Brooks, who allegedly bought her from a sex trafficker when she was 15 and repeatedly raped her.
“Justice has not been served, even though I’ve been sentenced,” Lewis told KCCI’s Beau Bowman.
Polk County District Judge David M. Porter granted Lewis a deferred judgment when he sentenced her in September 2022. Lewis was ordered to complete five years of probation at the Fresh Start Women’s Center, a 48-bed transitional facility in Des Moines, and perform 1,200 hours of community service. Because it is a deferred judgment, at the end of her probation, Lewis would be able to have her conviction expunged.
“Well, Ms. Lewis, this was the second chance you asked for. You don’t get a third. Do you understand that?” Judge Porter said to Lewis when he issued his orders.
Lewis spoke to KCCI from Polk County Jail, where she has been since she was taken into custody last November after removing her GPS monitor and walking away from Fresh Start.
Lewis told Bowman she had not felt safe at Fresh Start.
“I ran into a lot of people from my past,” she said.
Speaking to the Des Moines Register in March, Lewis said the women’s facility was located in the same neighborhood where she had been homeless after running away from her foster home as a teenager. It was also where the person she says is a sex trafficker who forced her to have sex with men lives. Lewis also said some of the other residents at Fresh Start made her feel unsafe, and she did not have access to counselors she felt could help her.
“I really tried not to run from problems, but the people I reached out to either weren’t able to help me, I couldn’t reach out to them, or they just shrugged their shoulders and told me to call my attorneys,” she told Bowman.
A hearing to determine if Lewis’s probation should be revoked is scheduled for May 31. If Judge Porter does revoke her probation, Lewis would face up to 21 years in prison — 10 years for each of the two counts to which she pleaded guilty, and one year for violating the conditions of her parole.
Lewis’s case gained international attention when she was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to Brooks’ estate. People were outraged that someone who had been sex trafficked as a teenager would have make a payment to the heirs of a man she said raped her five times. But the restitution was mandated by Iowa law and Judge Potter had no discretion as to whether it should be imposed.
A GoFundMe account was set up for Lewis to cover the cost of the restitution payment, and quickly exceeded the $150,000 goal. Politicians promised to amend state code to keep other victims of sex trafficking from having to potentially pay people who injured or exploited them, but two bills addressing the problem died without receiving floor votes in this year’s legislative session.
Now friends of Lewis are collecting signatures on a petition on Change.org, asking the governor to pardon her.
“We believe Pieper Lewis doesn’t deserve any jail time for defending herself. Now, three years after the alleged crime occurred, we believe eighteen year old Pieper deserves a pardon,” the petition page states.
Iowa governors do not have the authority to grant pardons in cases with deferred judgments, because “the Governor’s pardon power is limited to those offenses after conviction,” an FAQ on pardons and commutations on the Office of Governor’s website explains. So, a pardon would only be possible if Potter revokes Lewis’s deferred judgment and sentences her to prison.
KCCI reached out to Reynolds’ office regarding the possibility of a meeting with Lewis or issuing a pardon, but received no reply.
“I want to heal and grow with the community,” Lewis told Bowman. “But I have to make sure I’m okay before I can do that. And sometimes I can do that with the community. Some people heal different. That’s kind of how I am.”