Nov. 2008 – Heemstra trial ends: Witnesses say Lyon was angry about land

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. November 12, 2008.

Heemstra trial ends: Witnesses say Lyon was angry about land

Defense witnesses today described slain Milo farmer Tom Lyon as deeply disappointed and angry after fellow farmer Rodney Heemstra purchased a nearby farm Lyon had been renting.

Evan Kibbe, who had been a hired hand on the farm, testified during the final day of a civil trial that Lyon had ranted and raved about problems with water being shut off for his cows after Heemstra had purchased the farm. Heemstra wasn’t scheduled to take possession immediately, so Lyon continued to graze his cows on the land.

“I should shoot the son of a bitch and go on,” Kibbe quoted Lyon as saying. He also said Lyon had also talked about acquiring a firearm “to run off varmints” and that Lyon told him the weapon was kept in his pickup truck. Kibbe acknowledged under cross-examination never seeing the firearm.

The defense witnesses testified in the fifth day of a wrongful death case filed by Lyon’s family against Heemstra. The trial ended early this afternoon and Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert gave each side 30 days to submit final written arguments.

He plans to take the case under consideration and will issue a decision at a later date. Huppert has already ruled Heemstra is clearly liable for killing Lyon and that Lyon’s family can seek punitive damages.

Heemstra. 49, has admitted killing Lyon on Jan. 13, 2003, with a single rifle shot to the head after an argument on a rural Warren County road. He was freed from prison in late October after serving more than four years in prison on a voluntary manslaughter conviction,

The 315-acre farm that Heemstra had purchased was being sold by Lucille Rodgers and her daughter, Sheryl Rogers. Sheryl Rogers testified today she went to Tom Lyon’s farmstead after her family’s land was listed for sale by a real estate agent.

Tom Lyon was notified and given a chance to purchase the land because he was the renter, but he was very unhappy, she said.

Lyon had previously expressed interest in buying the farm, but only without a real estate agent, and only in separate land parcels that were individually priced, she said. He hadn’t wanted to purchase the entire farm as a single unit, she said.

“Tom was not at all happy about it. He repeatedly said he didn’t think he it was fair," Sheryl Rodgers said. ”He said he hadn’t been treated fairly. …His anger was just below the surface. He was very slow in speech. He seemed like he was trying to control his anger instead of exploding.”

Ronda Lyon, the farmer’s wife, was also present during the discussion. She had a look of fear in her eyes that she was afraid of what was going to happen, Sheryl Rodgers said.

When Tom Lyon was told the price being sought for the farm, he responded by laughing, Sheryl Rodgers said.

Then after the farm was sold to Heemstra, she said she saw Tom Lyon occasionally and each time he would complain. “Usually he had some comment that what he thought we asked for the farm was outrageous. … He felt he hadn’t been treated fairly,” she said.

After Heemstra bought the land, he asked permission to do fall plowing on the land, but Lyon refused, Sheryl Rodgers said. He insisted on allowing his cattle to graze on the corn stubble that remained after the harvest. Heemstra wasn’t scheduled to take possession until March 1, 2003.

Meanwhile, farmhand Kibbie, who had worked for the Rodgers’ family, testified Lyon quit talking with him after he refused an offer to care for the cows on the farm. He said he declined because he had been doing the work for Lucille Rodgers and not anyone else. He said he had previously considered Tom Lyon a good friend.

Alta Michener, another farm neighbor, testified about a car trip with Lyon shortly before his death when they drove together to a federal agriculture office in Indianola to discuss drainage issues. She said he didn’t have anything good to say about his neighbors, particularly Heemstra. Lyon complained that every time he tried to buy land someone bought it out from under him, and Heemstra had turned the water off for his cattle.

In addition, Michener said Lyon mentioned problems he had been having in his relationship with his wife and that she had given him an ultimatum.

"She is ready to file for divorce,” Michener quoted Lyon when talking about his wife.

Ronda Lyon testified earlier this week she had never planned to divorce her husband. She said she had encouraged him to seek professional therapy, and that after seeing a professional therapist in Des Moines he seemed to be fine.