Oct. 2003 – Heemstra found guilty

Des Moines Register. Tom Suk. October 23, 2003.

Heemstra found guilty

Sioux City, Ia. – Rodney Heemstra shook his head from side to side as he learned Wednesday that he would spend the rest of his life in prison for the shooting death of neighboring farmer Tom Lyon.

Heemstra, 44, of rural Milo was convicted of first-degree murder in the Jan. 13 shooting of Lyon, 52.

Authorities said the slaying resulted from a longstanding feud between the two respected Milo-area farmers over land where Lyon kept cattle. Heemstra’s lawyers said that Lyon was shot in self- defense.

The trial was moved to Woodbury County to seek impartial jurors.

After the verdict was announced about 4 p.m., the victim’s wife, Ronda, said: “We are very pleased with the verdict that we have gotten today. We know it will not bring Tom back, but at least we know that justice has been served.”

Jury foreman Russell A. Olson, who was contacted Wednesday evening by phone, said: “I am not interested in talking to any reporters. I don’t think anyone else is, either. We talked it over and we decided what happened in that jury room would stay in that jury room.”

Four other jurors who were contacted Wednesday evening said they had no comment.

The two days the jury spent deliberating were stressful, Ronda Lyon said outside the courthouse.

“The longer we waited, the more we were afraid it would not be the verdict we wanted. It was very stressful.” The whole trial was “very stressful, very emotional,” she said.

Lyon was flanked by her two grown children, Bart and Cheri.

“They realize this is not going to bring Tom Lyon back, but they are going to have the peace of mind knowing that the person responsible has been held accountable,” said Warren County Attorney Gary Kendell. “Our victim is dead. We are never going to really know what really happened, but fortunately in this case we had two taped confessions.”

The Heemstra family left the courtroom without comment.

Leon Spies, Heemstra’s attorney, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the verdict.

“That will take some concerted thought, and we have to take in the wishes of Mr. Heemstra,” Spies said. Spies said he plans to meet with the Heemstra family today to discuss any further action, including appealing. “Obviously, they (family members) are very distraught, exhausted and heartbroken,” he said.

Under Iowa law, a first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Judge William Joy tentatively scheduled Heemstra’s sentencing for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 13 at the Warren County Courthouse in Indianola.

Heemstra, with his head bowed, was led in handcuffs to a waiting Warren County patrol car for the trip back to Indianola, where he will remain in jail until his sentencing.

Warren County Deputy Capt. Tom McNamara said, “He was just quiet, not a word.”

In taped statements played during the trial, Heemstra told investigators how the two men met coincidentally on the road near the disputed property early on Jan. 13. He said Lyon blocked the path of his pickup truck, got out of his own vehicle, and challenged Heemstra to do the same. Heemstra said he”stupidly” accepted the challenge.

Heemstra said he had been carrying a loaded .22-caliber rifle because of previous confrontations with Lyon. He went to his truck, grabbed the weapon and leveled it at Lyon, Heemstra told investigators. Lyon cursed and taunted him, and Heemstra pulled the trigger, he said. The bullet struck Lyon in the head just above his right eye.

In testimony, Heemstra said Lyon lunged at him.

During cross-examination, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand said Heemstra never mentioned that in the two taped confessions.

Heemstra said the confrontation was one in a series of profane and insulting tirades Lyon had unleashed against him since he bought the property across the road from the victim’s home. Lyon was jealous of his success, Heemstra said, and bitter that Heemstra was willing to pay $803,250 for the 314-acre farm.

Because of warnings from neighbors that Lyon had a violent temper and was capable of a physical attack, he carried a .22-caliber rifle in his truck, Heemstra said.

Kendell said the turning point in the conviction was the cross-examination of Heemstra by Hammerand.

“It was the solidifying point of the trial. He didn’t have answers to a lot of things, and when he did answer it was evasive,” Kendell said.