July 8 2009 – Heemstra Trial

Des Moines Register. William Petroski. July 8, 2009

July 8 2009 – Heemstra Trial

Indianola, Ia. – The wife of convicted killer Rodney Heemstra testified Tuesday that she and her husband don’t have any money and aren’t avoiding paying the family of victim Tom Lyon.

“Everything has already been sold,” said Berta Heemstra. She said no money had been hidden in an effort to avoid paying widow Ronda Lyon or other creditors.

Lyon’s estate is suing Heemstra and his relatives in a civil fraud case that continued for a second day

Tuesday in Warren County District Court. The Lyons contend they cannot collect a $5.68 million wrongful-death judgment because the Heemstra family conspired to hide assets after the slaying.

Heemstra’s lawyers have said no fraud existed. They said Heemstra was financially overextended and heavily in debt before the Jan. 13, 2003, slaying occurred.

Heemstra, 50, was a wealthy farmer with a net worth between $3.7 million and $4.2 million before he shot and killed 52-year-old Tom Lyon, said Donald Beattie, a lawyer for Lyon’s family. But almost immediately after the crime was committed, a conspiracy began to conceal Heemstra’s financial holdings by transferring land and money into fraudulent trusts and other fraudulent business entities, the lawyer said.

Heemstra killed the unarmed Lyon, a fellow Milo-area farmer, after a series of arguments between the two over farmland and cattle-watering equipment. He served four years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

Last year, District Judge Michael Huppert ordered Heemstra to pay damages to Lyon’s family following a five-day civil trial. Properties at issue in the current fraud trial are in several counties: Warren, Hamilton, Guthrie, Hancock, Humboldt, Wright, Kossuth and Palo Alto.

Heemstra’s sister, Marcie Wilkinson of Jacksonville, Fla., took the witness stand Tuesday to describe her role as a trustee of some of the farmland previously owned by Heemstra.

Wilkinson, a defendant, testified she hasn’t lived in Iowa for 30 years and had never met the tenants on the farmland owned by the trust. She also had trouble answering questions about Iowa agriculture, such as the value of farmland.

But Wilkinson said she acted in good faith to help the Heemstra family by serving as a trustee in farm business dealings. “People do transactions like this every day, and I didn’t see anything out of line or incorrect,” Wilkinson said.

She said she resigned as a trustee after her doctor advised her to cut back on her workload because of health reasons.

During afternoon testimony, Beattie asked Berta Heemstra whether she had ever expressed any sympathy to Ronda Lyon. Heemstra’s lawyer, Joel Baxter, objected, but District Judge Paul Huscher let the questioning proceed.

“No, we haven’t,” Berta Heemstra replied.

Each trust at issue in the trial has as its trustee or partner the wife, sister or cousin of Rodney Heemstra, or the sisters of Berta Heemstra, the plaintiffs have alleged in court documents.

Scott and Brian Heemstra, the adult sons of Rodney and Berta Heemstra, are named as beneficiaries of two of the three trusts. Berta Heemstra is the named beneficiary of the remaining trust, according to court documents.

The nonjury civil trial is expected to continue through July 17. Huscher is to rule later.

About 30 people attended Tuesday’s court session, including Rodney Heemstra and Ronda Lyon.

Rodney Heemstra might testify today.