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After 9 Year Legal Battle Beattie Law Firm Reaches Settlement for Widow

Timeline in Heemstra-Lyon court case


  • Tom Lyon, 52, dies in January from a single gunshot wound to the head as he tends livestock near his Milo home. Authorities arrest neighbor Rodney Heemstra, who they say shot Lyon with a rifle after an argument about property.
  • Lyon’s wife, Ronda, sues Heemstra for more than $2 million and asks a judge for first claim to property that he sold or transferred after the slaying.
  • At his October murder trial, Heemstra testifies that an enraged Lyon lunged at him during a quarrel, which prompted the shooting.
  • Heemstra is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.


  • Heemstra appeals. He claims he was denied a fair trial because a judge blocked access to Lyon’s medical records.


  • The Iowa Supreme Court rules that Heemstra deserves a new trial. The decision overturns a portion of Iowa’s “felony-murder rule,” which since 1982 had allowed murder convictions when a person was slain while a forcible felony was being committed.


  • Heemstra’s second trial takes place in Montgomery County. He is convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.


  • Heemstra is released from Iowa’s prison system after four years behind bars.
  • A second civil trial is held in Polk County District Court because the initial verdict was declared invalid by the Iowa Supreme Court. The court awards Lyon’s estate $5.68 million.


  • A judge rules against Heemstra in a civil fraud case brought by Lyon’s estate and awards $750,000 in punitive damages, plus $250,000 in legal fees. Lyon’s family alleged during a Warren County District Court trial that Heemstra and his wife, Berta, had conspired to defraud Lyon’s estate of a $5.68 million wrongful death judgment. The judge also appointed a receiver to sell farmland and other real estate owned by Heemstra and his wife in five Iowa counties.


  • Lawyers representing Lyon’s estate and Heemstra meet in Warren County District Court and agree on several key points aimed at settling the civil litigation and paying off the judgments against Heemstra. But lawyers also say it could be several years before everything is resolved. They agree that any proceeds from sales of Heemstra’s land holdings must be used to pay off certain mortgages and to give priority to state and federal tax liens.


  • Heemstra’s lawyers make arguments to set aside sheriff’s deeds on his land holdings. Heemstra files other motions in court, raising objections to the proceedings.


  • Court is scheduled to oversee the sales of about 1,200 acres of Heemstra’s farm holdings in Warren, Wright and Hancock counties for more than $11 million in an effort to satisfy judgments against Heemstra. Talks are held among all the parties involved in an effort to reach a settlement, and agreement appears near, although issues over state and federal taxes prevent a settlement from being finalized. Another court hearing is set for April 26.

• On April 26, the case is settled, ending nine years of legal battles. The terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed.

Des Moines Register