July 10 2009 – Heemstra Trial

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. July 10, 2009

July 10 2009 - Heemstra Trial

Indianola, Ia. – A convict who shared an Anamosa prison cell with Rodney Heemstra has testified the former Milo farmer repeatedly vowed the family of the man he shot to death in January 2003 “would never get a nickel” from him.

A deposition from inmate Keith R. Brown, 48, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree kidnapping, was read aloud today in Warren County District Court. Brown was Heemstra’s cellmate for 10 months in 2004 at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, where Heemstra was assigned after being convicted of killing his neighbor Tom Lyon. Heemstra, 50, who spent four years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, is being sued by Lyon’s estate on allegations he has hidden millions of dollars in assets to avoid paying a $5.68 million wrongful death judgment. Records show Heemstra had a net worth of between $3.7 million and $4.2 million before the slaying, but he now contends he has no money.

Heemstra’s lawyers have said nothing improper was done. They have told the court Heemstra was overextended financially and had an enormous amount of farm debt before the slaying occurred.

Brown said he contacted lawyers for Lyon’s estate after reading a story about Heemstra that appeared on March 27, 2009 in the Des Moines Register. He said he wanted to express condolences to Lyon’s family, especially widow Ronda Lyon.

He said Heemstra had spoken in scornful terms about Ronda Lyon.

“He had no love for her. He didn’t care for her two cents..and wanted to make sure she didn’t get any money.” Brown was an orientation clerk at Anamosa, helping new inmates adjust to prison regulations. He said a prison staffer had asked him to keep an eye on Heemstra.

Heemstra had appeared to be despondent upon entering prison for what was a life sentence for first-degree murder before his original conviction was overturned, Brown said. Heemstra was reportedly so unhappy at the time he sent his family a letter telling not to even visit him anymore.

“I tried to encourage positive things…this isn’t the end of the world,” Brown said. He said they talked about Heemstra appealing his murder conviction and he helped him with his court case.

Regarding Lyon’s family, Heemstra “was pretty adamant” from the beginning “that they would never get a nickel from him. He just said he put everything in different peoples’ names. He sold stuff,” Brown said.

Heemstra was also frequently on the phone with his wife, Berta Heemstra, Brown added.

“It was all like it was top secret. It was like it was a conspiracy.” he said. Heemstra was on the telephone as early as 6:30 a.m., making calls inside the penitentiary’s yard.

Brown said Heemstra told him that before he was arrested for killing Lyon, he removed office files from his home in Warren County and put them in a storage facility.

“He knew he was in trouble.”.

Heemstra also talked of buying a farm in northern Iowa for his son and that he sold land to his mother and father, Neil and Marilyn Heemstra, for $1, Brown added.

Heemstra sounded proud of his scheme, Brown said.

“He was being braggadocious about that. He thought it was funny.”

Heemstra killed Lyon with a single rifle shot to the head six years ago after the two men argued over farmland and cattle-watering equipment. He dragged the body more than a mile with a pickup truck before dumping it in a cistern and covering it with hay bales. He was freed from prison last October. Late last year, Judge Michael Huppert ordered Heemstra to pay Lyon’s family $5.68 million in damages, which Lyon’s estate has been unable to collect.

Today is the fifth day of the non-jury trial before Judge Paul Huscher. The case will resume Monday and is expected to last at least 10 days.