Feb. 2003 – Farmer’s widow seeks $2 million

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Des Moines Register. Tom Suk. February 12, 2003

Farmer's widow seeks $2 million

The widow of a Milo farmer gunned down allegedly because of a feud over Warren County pastureland wants first claim to property that has been sold or transferred by the accused killer.

Rodney Heemstra is accused of shooting Tommy Ray Lyon on Jan. 13. He has transferred ownership of at least 136 acres to his mother-in-law or his parents, county property records show.

Heemstra, charged with first-degree murder, is free on $500,000 bond and plans to auction hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of vehicles and farm equipment.

Lyon's wife, Ronda, has sued Heemstra for more than $2 million.

The wrongful death lawsuit charges that Heemstra has "disposed of the defendant's property, in whole or part, with the intent to defraud creditors."

The lawsuit additionally charges that Heemstra "is about to convert the defendant's property into money . . . for the purpose of placing it beyond the reach of the defendant's credi- tors."

"It does not take a rocket scientist to see what this guy is doing," said Lyon's attorney, Donald G. Beattie.

Beattie said Heemstra also had transferred to relatives a substantial but undetermined amount of property in northern Iowa.

If Lyon wins in court, she will be given priority to collect the proceeds from the sale of any land owned by Heemstra on Jan. 27 or afterward, except for "pre-existing valid mortgages or liens" on the property, said Beattie, adding that he also might file a claim to any money raised through the sale of any vehicles or farm equipment Heemstra owned at the time of the slaying.

Warren County Attorney Gary Kendell said despite Heemstra's attempted conversion of property into cash, he will not ask that the suspect's bond be raised or revoked.

If convicted, Heemstra faces a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, which made some people question why he would be allowed to post bond.

"I don't have any evidence that he is planning to flee," Kendell said Tuesday. "It is my understanding he is selling things off to keep from losing everything because he is pretty heavily financed."

Mason J. Ouderkirk, Heemstra's attorney, said the auction is an attempt to try to save the family's farming operation.

"Creditors are basically precipitating the sale," Ouderkirk said. "There are liens against all that machinery," which is scheduled to be sold on Feb. 22.

Ouderkirk would not comment on the land transfers because they are part of the wrongful death lawsuit, he said.

Lyon's lawyer predicts victory. Heemstra "has already confessed that he did it. To me it is just up to a judge to assess the damages," Beattie said.

Lyon was "distraught beyond belief" when she learned that Heemstra had transferred land and planned to sell off equipment, he added.

Heemstra, 42, is accused of shooting Lyon, 52, after a long-standing dispute over 315 acres. Heemstra was purchasing the land on contract; Lyon kept cattle there.

Heemstra is free pending an April 2 trial. His parents, Neil and Marilyn Heemstra, pledged 300 acres of debt-free farmland with a value of $545,000 to secure his release.

"The court let out a man who reportedly confessed to the murder on $500,000 worth of land. The victim's wife had to post a $2 million bond to prevent him from liquidating his assets," Beattie said.

The bond money needed to secure a claim on the property in dispute was raised through an insurance company.

The county attorney said he's "obviously concerned" that Heemstra could skip bail, but added, "there could be a legitimate explanation" for the financial moves.

"My position is he should still be in jail or have been required to post a $500,000 cash bond," Kendell said. "Obviously, the judge disagreed. I can't change that without new evidence."