Dec. 2008 – Judge rules Milo farmer must pay $5.6 million

Associated Press. Associate Press Writer. December 21, 2008

Judge rules Milo farmer must pay $5.6 million

DES MOINES – A Warren County District Court judge has ruled that Rodney Heemstra must pay more than $5.6 million in damages to Tom Lyon’s widow.

Heemstra shot Lyon in January 2003 and hid the body in a cistern. He was originally convicted of first-degree murder, but the Iowa Supreme Court ordered a new trial, and Heemstra was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was released from state prison in Fort Dodge in October after serving more than four years.

Judge Michael Huppert filed the ruling on Friday after a five-day, non-jury civil trial in November in Des Moines.

Huppert ruled that Heemstra must pay $1.18 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages. Including the back interest, the award could grow to more than $6 million.

A lawyer for Lyon’s widow, Ronda Lyons, called the award ”very gratifying,” but said the fight to get money from Heemstra could take time because Heemstra transferred parcels of land in his name after the shooting.

The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld Heemstra’s voluntary manslaughter conviction in October. He had argued that the Supreme Court’s reversal of the first-degree murder conviction constituted an acquittal.

Heemstra argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling means there were insufficient facts to support a felony murder or premeditated murder argument, but the appeals court said in its ruling that the Supreme Court’s reversal of Heemstra’s conviction was the result of a legal error – a faulty jury instruction – not insufficient facts.

Heemstra has maintained that he shot 52-year-old Lyon in self defense after Lyon lunged at him during an argument. Court records show that the neighbors had a history of confrontations about land and cattle-watering equipment.

Prosecutors say that Heemstra dragged Lyon’s body more than a mile before he hid it in a cistern and covered it with hay.