The Iowa Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a Warren County farmer who shot and killed a rival in a dispute over a piece of land. Rodney Heemstra was found guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Tom Lyon to death on January 13th of 2003.
Heemstra appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court in January of this year on the grounds the trial court erred in instructing the jury on what constituted felony murder. Heemstra admitted to shooting Lyon, but said it was in the heat of the argument and in self defense and not pre-planned.
Heemstra also said his case was hampered the refusal of the judge to allow him to obtain Lyon’s medical records,and ineffective representation by his lawyer. The Supreme Court ruled there was an error based on the legal qualifications of what is required to prove that Heemstra’s shooting of Lyon fit the definition of felony murder.
The High Court also ruled Heemstra has a sufficient claim to get limited disclosure of Lyon’s medical records as it might have some impact on Heemstra’s claim he shot Lyon in self defense. And the court said some of those records are now in the public domain due to the civil suit against Heemstra.
The justices did not address the issue of whether Heemstra had an poor representation by his lawyer, saying the court assumes that will not be an issue during the re-trial. The Supreme Court reversed the first-degree murder conviction and sent the case back to the district court for re-trial.