Dec. 2008 – Judge orders Heemstra to pay Lyon’s widow $5.68 million

Iowa’s Only GR8 Professional Law Firm:


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

Des Moines Register. William Petroski. December 20, 2008.

Judge orders Heemstra to pay Lyon's widow $5.68 million

Milo farmer Rodney Heemstra was ordered by a judge Friday to pay more than $5.6 million in damages to the widow of Tom Lyon, whom Heemstra killed nearly six years ago.

Judge Michael Huppert issued the ruling in favor of Ronda Lyon in Warren County District Court. Huppert had presided over a five-day, nonjury civil trial in November in Des Moines that included emotional testimony about the cold-blooded slaying that stunned a small town.

Heemstra, 49, killed the unarmed Lyon, 52, with a single .22-caliber rifle shot to the head early on Jan. 13, 2003. The violence followed arguments between the two men over Warren County farmland and cattle-watering equipment. Prosecutors said Heemstra dragged Lyon's body behind a pickup truck more than a mile before dumping the corpse headfirst into a cistern. He then covered the cistern with hay bales. Heemstra later confessed to authorities.

The judgment calls for Heemstra to pay Lyon's family $1.18 million in compensatory damages, plus $4.5 million in punitive damages. When interest is calculated, the award could exceed $6 million.

In a blunt 21-page decision, Huppert said Heemstra had acted to conceal his responsibility for the crime almost from the moment of the shooting.

"He has consistently acted in a manner that is oblivious to the consequences he has wrought on Lyon and his family. In doing so, he has compounded the already reprehensible actions he intentionally undertook when he shot and killed Lyon. His overall conduct justifies an award of punitive damages to the full extent allowable under the law," Huppert said.

Reaction to the judge's ruling among some Milo residents Friday was in favor of Lyon's family.

Jerry Beck, a former commander of American Legion Post 263 in Milo, said he believes Lyon's widow should have been awarded more money. He also contends Heemstra should still be in prison.

"Somebody can embezzle money out of a business and get more years than what he got. It's not right," Beck said.

Milo Fire Chief Tom Bales said he was glad Ronda Lyon was awarded the money, but he doubted she will ever see a dime of it.

"They will finagle some way out of it," Bales said.

Huppert also rejected arguments by Heemstra's attorneys that Lyon's marriage was in jeopardy at the time of his death.

"To the contrary, the overall evidence is clear that Lyon and Ronda were committed to each other throughout their almost 32-year marriage. They were marital partners in every sense of the word. They worked together to establish a loving, prosperous and supportive environment for not only themselves but their children," Huppert said.

Donald Beattie, Ronda Lyon's lawyer, called Huppert's ruling "gratifying" because it rejected questions raised about the Lyon family's personal lives and found no grounds for Heemstra's actions.

However, Beattie said court battles will likely continue for years in an effort to collect the money from Heemstra. He said Heemstra transferred dozens of parcels of real estate worth millions of dollars out of his name after Tom Lyon was slain.

"I think we will be able to collect real estate and assets from Heemstra. I can't tell you how much at this time," Beattie said. None of the lawyers who represented Heemstra during his civil trial returned calls Friday seeking comment.

Heemstra was initially convicted of murder, but was later granted a new trial and was convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. He was freed from the Fort Dodge state prison in October after spending more than four years behind bars.

This was the second civil trial against Heemstra pursued by Lyon's estate. A Warren County judge previously awarded Lyon's family $11.5 million in damages based largely on the murder conviction that was thrown out. A three-judge panel of the Iowa Supreme Court declared the initial civil verdict invalid, resulting in another trial last month.