Oct. 2003 – Life insure balks; Lyon estate to sue

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Des Moines Register. Adam Morris. October 27, 2003

Life insure balks; Lyon estate to sue

A lawyer for the estate of slain Warren County farmer Tom Lyon plans to file a civil lawsuit against an insurance company that is refusing to pay out on Lyon's life insurance policy.

Donald Beattie, a lawyer for Lyon's estate, said Sunday that Zurich Life was treating Lyon's slaying as if it were a suspicious death.

"They want to go through his personal medical files," Beattie said. "You tell me why."

Rodney Heemstra, 44, was convicted last week of first-degree murder in Lyon's fatal shooting and will be sentenced Nov. 13 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors said the Jan. 13 killing was the climax of a feud between Lyon and Heemstra over a parcel of land where Lyon kept cattle.

A wrongful-death civil lawsuit was filed in late January against Heemstra, but Beattie said it would be difficult to collect any money if damages were awarded. Heemstra has sold or transferred ownership of large amounts of land and farm equipment, which could lead to a web of legal entanglements for Lyon's widow and family, Beattie said.

"I think any judgment would exceed any assets he had, and that's a sad thing," Beattie said.

Ronda Lyon, Tom Lyon's widow, said Sunday that she planned to take some time to try to set her life in order. She said she and her family have been facing tough decisions and trying times during the past 10 months.

During the criminal trial, prosecution and defense attorneys painted very different pictures of Lyon and Heemstra.

Heemstra's defense portrayed Lyon as a farmer with a temper who scared Heemstra into shooting Lyon in self-defense. The prosecution cast Lyon as a neighborly farmer who was always willing to lend others a helping hand.

Civil proceedings would probably revisit the tragedy and explore the impact of the killing on Ronda Lyon and her family.

"I really don't know what to expect with this. I'm not sure what it would entail," Ronda Lyon said. "I'll just have to pull my strength out again like I did for (the criminal trial), and know what has to be done."