July 7 2009 – Heemstra Trial

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. July 7, 2009.

July 7 2009 - Heemstra Trial

Indianola, Ia. – An attorney for slain farmer Tom Lyon’s estate raised questions today about whether relatives of Rodney Heemstra, his killer, conspired to defraud Lyon’s family of a $5.68 million wrongful death judgment.

The second day of testimony in the civil fraud trial began with Marcie Wilkinson of Jacksonville, Fla., taking the stand in Warren County District Court. She is Heemstra’s sister, and was a trustee of some of the farmland previously owned by Heemstra.

Heemstra was a wealthy farmer with a net worth between $3.7 million and $4.2 million before the slaying, according to Donald Beattie, a lawyer for Lyon’s family. But in the aftermath of the killing, Heemstra sought to fraudulent transfer and hide his assets through the creation of family member-controlled trusts, Beattie said.

Wilkinson testified in response to a question from Beattie that she hasn’t lived in Iowa for 30 years. She also displayed a limited knowledge of farmland values or farm operations. When asked about the current value of farmland in northern Iowa, she replied, “I don’t know.”

Some of the real estate at issue in the trial involves property across a wide geographic area of Iowa, including land in Warren, Hamilton, Guthrie, Hancock, Humboldt, Wright, Kossuth and Palo Alto counties. Wilkinson said she acted in good faith to help the Heemstra family by serving as a trustee.

“People do transactions like this every day, and I didn’t see anything out of line or incorrect,” Wilkinson said. She said she resigned as a trustee after her doctor advised her to cut back on her workload because of health reasons.

Heemstra shot to death the unarmed Lyon, a fellow Milo area farmer, in January 2003. He served more than four years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, and a judge last fall ordered him to pay a wrongful death judgment of $5.68 million to Lyon’s family.

Heemstra’s lawyers have strongly disputed allegations he is trying to defraud Lyon’s estate. They have told the court that Heemstra was overextended financially prior to the slaying and that allegations of fraud are simply wrong.

Each of the trusts at issue had as its trustee or partner the wife, sister or cousin of Rodney Heemstra, or the sisters of Berta Heemstra, Beattie has alleged in court documents.

Scott and Brian Heemstra, the adult sons of Rodney and Berta Heemstra, are named as beneficiaries of two of the three trusts created after the killing. Berta Heemstra is the named beneficiary of the remaining trust, according to court documents.

Judge Paul Huscher is presiding over the non-jury civil trial, which is expected to continue through July 17. He will issue a ruling later. About 30 people attended this morning’s court session.