Feb. 2006 – $11.5 million in widow’s lawsuit

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Des Moines Register. Beth Loberg. February 4, 2006.

$11.5 million in widow's lawsuit

One of the biggest punitive damage awards in Iowa history was given to the wife of a slain Warren County farmer.

Ronda Lyon of Milo received $11.5 million in her wrongful-death lawsuit against Rodney Heemstra, who was convicted of the first-degree murder of her husband, Tom Lyon.

Judge Sherman Phipps confirmed Friday evening that he mailed a ruling to the county clerk's office late Thursday afternoon.

The court considered Ronda Lyon's lost financial support in awarding the damages.

"Tommy Ray Lyon was, with few exceptions, the one person who, on a day-to-day basis, kept the farming operation viable and functional," the court stated in its ruling.

Heemstra, a former Milo farmer, is serving a life sentence in Anamosa State Prison for the shooting death of Tom Lyon, a neighbor, over a land dispute in 2003.

Neighbors and friends of the Lyon family were pleased with this week's news.

"I hope that it helps Ronda," said Warren County Sheriff's Deputy Ken Keeney, who testified in the trial. Heemstra later alleged Keeney had committed conspiracy to commit perjury.

Keith Smith, pastor of the Motor Friends Church near Milo, said that he hoped the award would bring an end to the story and relief to his neighbor.

"It's been a long, long time — hopefully life will move on now," he said.

Heemstra, who claimed he acted in self-defense, appealed his 2004 conviction to the Iowa Supreme Court, arguing that he didn't get a fair trial because he was denied access to Tom Lyon's medical records.

The records, sealed by Judge William Joy during the trial, may have shown that Tom Lyon was being medicated for uncontrollable anger that could have contributed to the shooting, Heemstra's attorneys said.

Heemstra also challenged a state law requiring criminals to reimburse families for taking a life.