Nov. 2008 – Heemstra trial: Witnesses cite slain farmer’s ire

Iowa’s Only GR8 Professional Law Firm:


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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

Heemstra trial: Witnesses cite slain farmer's ire

Slain Milo farmer Tom Lyon provoked a fatal confrontation with neighbor Rodney Heemstra, defense witnesses repeatedly said on Wednesday.

Those witnesses described Lyon as deeply disappointed and angry after Heemstra had bought a farm in rural Warren County that Lyon had been renting. They testified during the fifth and final day of a civil trial in which Lyon's family is seeking wrongful-death damages from Heemstra, who has admitted to killing his neighbor in a dispute in 2003.

Evan Kibbe, a hired hand on the farm, told the court that Lyon was upset about water being shut off for his cows after Heemstra bought the property. Heemstra didn't take possession immediately, and Lyon continued to graze his cows on the land.

"I should shoot the son of a (expletive) and go on," Kibbe said he once overheard Lyon remark. He also said Lyon talked about having a firearm in his pickup truck "to run off varmints."

But Kibbe acknowledged never seeing the firearm, and a weapon wasn't found in Lyon's pickup after his death.

The trial ended Wednesday afternoon and Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert gave each side 30 days to submit final written arguments. He plans to issue a decision at a later date.

Huppert has already ruled Heemstra is clearly liable for killing Lyon and Lyon's family can seek punitive damages.

Heemstra, 49, has testified he used a rifle to shoot the unarmed Lyon, 52, in the head on Jan. 13, 2003, after an argument on a rural road. He was freed from prison in October after serving more than four years on a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

This is the second trial of the lawsuit; the first trial led to an award of $11.5 million to the Lyon family, but it was thrown out after Heemstra's original conviction of murder was overturned.

Both Heemstra and Ronda Lyon, the slain farmer's widow, attended the entire trial, and relatives and friends of each sat behind them in the courtroom in Des Moines. Heemstra chatted with his family and shook hands with his lawyers after the trial. Ronda Lyon received hugs of support.

The farm Heemstra had bought five years ago was sold by Lucille Rodgers and her daughter, Sheryl. Sheryl Rodgers, who is related to Heemstra, testified that she went to Lyon's farmstead after her family's land was listed for sale by a real estate agent. Lyon was given a chance to buy the land because he was the renter, but he was very upset, she said.

Lyon had previously expressed interest in buying the farm, but only without the costs of a real estate agent and only in separate land parcels individually priced, Rodgers said. She said Lyon hadn't wanted to buy the entire farm as a single unit, which is how the sale was conducted.

When Lyon was told the price asked for the farm, he responded by laughing at her, Rodgers said. Heemstra negotiated the sale for $803,250.

"Tom was not at all happy about it. ... He repeatedly said he didn't think it was fair," Rodgers said.

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

After the farm was sold to Heemstra, Rodgers said that she saw Tom Lyon periodically, and each time he would complain.

"Usually he had some comment that what he thought we asked for the farm was outrageous," she said.

Heemstra asked permission to do fall tillage after the sale was arranged, but Lyon refused, Rodgers said. She added that Lyon insisted on having his cattle graze on corn stubble after the harvest. Heemstra wasn't scheduled to take possession until March 1, 2003.