July 9 2009 – Heemstra Trial

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Des Moines Register. William Petroski. July 9, 2009.

July 9 2009 - Heemstra Trial

Indianola, Ia. - Creditors forced former Milo farmer Rodney Heemstra to restructure his finances after he was arrested for killing his neighbor Tom Lyon in January 2003, Heemstra's wife testified Wednesday.

Shortly after Heemstra was freed on bond, Farm Credit Services notified the couple that loans they had obtained to purchase agricultural land had been declared "distressed," Berta Heemstra said. If they didn't restructure their finances, they would face foreclosure, she added.

A similar warning was given by Wells Fargo officials, who had provided their farm an operating line of credit, she said. Berta Heemstra's testimony on the third day of a civil fraud trial in Warren County District Court was aimed at explaining why the couple began transferring their assets to trusts and other business entities after Rodney Heemstra was charged with the slaying.

The Heemstras and their relatives have been sued by Lyon's estate, which has alleged they conducted a series of sham business transactions in an effort to hide their assets to prevent the Lyon family from collecting a wrongful-death judgment.

Heemstra spent four years in prison for voluntary manslaughter before he was released last October. Late last year, following a five-day civil trial, District Judge Michael Huppert ordered Heemstra to pay $5.68 million in damages to Lyon's family. The Heemstras have denied any fraud and have said they don't have the money to pay damages to the Lyon family.

One of the trusts set up, the Brisco Revocable Trust, was set up to secure rent so that Berta Heemstra could continue to make mortgage payments related to their properties, she said.

Berta Heemstra said Wednesday that after her husband was charged with the killing, they discussed what they were going to do. "We just knew that we needed to liquidate," she said.

Berta Heemstra testified Wednesday that the couple's farm machinery was sold at auction. She acknowledged still having a financial interest in certain farmland, but she said that was only because the land was sold on contract and she is responsible for the underlying mortgages.

Berta Heemstra was the sole witness on the third day of what is expected to be at least a 10-day trial. District Judge Paul Huscher is overseeing the nonjury proceeding, which resumes today.

Berta Heemstra spent much of Wednesday's proceeding being grilled about what happened to millions of dollars' worth of assets she and her husband held before he killed Lyon six years ago. Her lawyer, Joel Baxter, gave her a calculator to help her answer questions about several years of tax returns and other financial documents. She acknowledged that she had filed a financial statement showing she had a net worth of close to $2 million in December 2003. Her husband had a net worth then of $256,000.

The story so far:


- Tom Lyon, 52, dies in January from a single gunshot wound to the head as he tends livestock near his Milo home. Authorities arrest neighbor Rodney Heemstra, who they say shot Lyon with a rifle after an argument about property.

- Lyon's wife, Ronda, sues Heemstra for more than $2 million and asks a judge for first claim to property that he sold or transferred after the slaying.

- Heemstra is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.


- Heemstra appeals.


- The Iowa Supreme Court rules that Heemstra deserves a new trial. The decision overturns a portion of Iowa's "felony murder rule," which allows murder convictions when a person is slain while a forcible felony is being committed.


- Heemstra's second trial takes place in Montgomery County. He is convicted of voluntary manslaughter and is sentenced to 10 years.


- Heemstra is freed from prison, having received credit for time spent in prison on the murder conviction.

- A judge orders the Heemstras to pay $5.68 million in a civil lawsuit.