Nov. 2008 – Expert: Ronda Lyon still grieves for slain husband

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. November 7, 2008.

Expert: Ronda Lyon still grieves for slain husband

The killing of Milo farmer Tom Lyon has shattered the life of his widow, Ronda, who remains under psychiatric care for depression and anxiety, an expert witness testified today in a wrongful death lawsuit against the assailant, Rodney Heemstra.

“I have heard her say many times…that she was dreaming about Tom nightly. But those are good things. Those are the only times that she gets to see him,” said Grace Hatcher, a clinical psychiatric nurse who has worked with Ronda Lyon.

Heemstra killed Tom Lyon, 52, with a single rifle shot to the head in January 2003 on a rural Warren County road following a series of confrontations between the two men over land and cattle-watering equipment. Heemstra was ultimately convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was freed last week from the Fort Dodge state prison after serving more than four years behind bars.

Hatcher testified during the third day of the civil trial that Ronda Lyon has had to receive psychiatric medication to help cope with her husband’s death. Both Ronda Lyon and Heemstra were in the courtroom this morning, each seated with their team of lawyers. She cried softly as Hatcher described her sadness, while Heemstra watched the proceedings stoically.

The non-jury trial before District Judge Michael Huppert is scheduled to continue through late next week. Huppert has already ruled that Heemstra was clearly liable for Lyon’s death and that Lyon’s family will be allowed to seek punitive damages.

In detailing the widow’s grief, Hatcher said Ronda Lyon particularly misses her daily farm life with her husband. Ronda Lyon has misses having eye contact with her husband and having him beside her at night, Hatcher said.

Ronda Lyon was especially frustrated when she lost her wedding ring, and her husband wasn’t there to comfort her, Hatcher said. She said Ronda has tried hard to take good care of herself, but she has suffered from anxiety over Heemstra’s release from the prison, and she has regretted having to sell much of her farm ground.

“She has had a huge trauma. I think she will take a long time to feel better. She is going to miss Tom for the rest of their life because they planned their life together,” Hatcher said.

Heemstra’s lawyers raised questions during cross-examination whether Ronda Lyon suffered from significant depression prior to her husband’s death. They said the first time she was prescribed anti-depression medication was in October 2000, more than two years before her husband’s slaying. Hatcher acknowledged she was aware that Ronda Lyon had been in marital counseling with her husband prior to his death.

In earlier testimony today, Michael Halverson, a DCI crime lab specialist, told how he was with a law enforcement search crew that found Lyon’s battered body hidden in a cistern in a frozen cornfield.

One of the searchers noticed bales of green hay wedged into the ground, Halverson said. The hay was noticeable amid the brown corn stubble and looked out of place, he added. Searchers had already found patchy trails of blood, and a cornstalk had been identified as having human blood on it.

After digging through the hay, Halverson said they quickly determined they had were standing in a crime scene.

“At that point….we knew a body was there,” Halverson said.

Previous testimony had indicated Lyon’s body was dragged behind a pickup truck more than a mile to the cistern. Halverson said the body had sustained blunt force trauma and part of the victim’s nose was missing. Lyon’s clothes were torn as well.

“There was quite a bit of damage,” Halverson said.

The rifle that Heemstra used to kill Lyon, had safety and trigger mechanisms that were working properly, testified Victor Murillo, a DCI crime lab specialist. He identified it as a .22-caliber, semi-automatic weapon.