Bill in response to high-profile case of teen who says she killed her rapist

DES MOINES — The chairman of a key Senate committee is working on a bill inspired by the case of an Iowa teenager convicted of murdering a man she says raped her repeatedly.

The judge who handled the Pieper Lewis case did not sentence her to prison and gave her a deferred judgement, but by law he was required to order her to pay $150,000 to the family of the man she killed. Brad Zaun of Urbandale, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said requiring a rape victim to pay the family of her rapist seems like an injustice. “I had a lot of constituents reach out who were pretty upset about that,” Zaun said.

Zaun has introduced a bill that would give judges the ability to consider the actions of the victim of a crime when deciding whether the victim’s family is owed restitution. Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the group recommends that bill be more narrowly focused, “so that we’re really addressing the extreme cases.”

Marion County Attorney Ed Bull said providing discretion to judges is a good thing in general, but the bill needs to clearly define what sort of cases would be covered. “At the time we get to sentencing, then are we going to have in essence a mini trial where the defense counsel is now going to try to prove their client is the victim of an offense?” Bull asked during a senate subcommittee meeting on the bill. “…What is the evidentiary standard for the court to determine if that person is truly a victim?”

Lisa Davis Cook, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Justice, said the trial lawyers group agrees. “While we absolutely believe in the concept and understand the case where this came about, we do agree that it needs to be tightened up a little bit to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences that we’re not thinking about,” Davis Cook said.

The Lewis case drew national attention and a GoFundMe account raised the funds to cover the restitution she was ordered to pay. Lewis, who is now 18, walked away from a residential corrections center in November and was taken back into custody a few days later. A hearing scheduled in March will determine if she’ll be sent to prison for violating her probation.