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The Defendant Vanished, but Judgment Collection Still Proceeds

They say life is stranger than fiction. Could be that’s the case in this unusual wrongful death story.
This is a case of wrongful death involving Tom Lyon (deceased) and his killer and former neighbor, Rodney Heemstra. The facts of this unusual incident culminated in a single rifle shot to the head of Tom Lyon in 2003 in rural Warren County. Lyon and Heemstra had been having arguments over cattle-watering equipment and farmland. Lyon was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Heemstra chained his corpse to pickup track, dragged it into a field, and hid it in a cistern.

Heemstra was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and was later released from state prison in October 2008. While Heemstra was in jail, Lyon’s widow brought a civil suit against him and his family that resulted in punitive damages of $750,000 and $5.68 million in the form a judgment. The judge in that case ruled that Heemstra and his wife had made plans to defraud Lyon’s estate of the wrongful death judgment he had been ordered to pay. The precise words the judge used to describe the Heemstra’s actions were “conniving and motivated by greed.”

It’s now 2010 and the Lyon family has not seen one thin dime of the $5.68 million judgment or the $750,000 in punitive damages. The reason for this seems to be that the killer has disappeared. Even Heemstra’s lawyer of record is asking to be removed from the case.

Despite that one rather major glitch, the judge ruled that whether he was present or not didn’t matter, and efforts to collect on the judgment will continue by authorizing a court-appointed referee to sell Heemstra’s farmland and other real estate. The proceeds will be distributed by the court.

Even without all the twists and turns in this highly unusual wrongful death case, the plaintiff, Rona Lyons, would have had to still pay all the family bills, funeral expenses, legal expenses, mortgages, land taxes and other extremely important bills. It was not easy for her to lose her husband at the hands of a supposed neighbor and one time friend. The emotional pain and suffering would have been overwhelming.

This situation may have been helped by Lyons applying for litigation funding to allow her to wait the seven long years to justice for this death. If the case qualified, lawsuit funding may have allowed her to pay her bills immediately instead of going into debt waiting for a verdict or settlement and, in this case, a source of payment. Lawsuit financing is non-recourse funding and if she had lost her case, she would not have had to one red penny back.

Often a lawsuit cash advance is just a mere phone call away and about 48 hours in getting to the applicant. It’s an ace in the hole that lets those plaintiffs facing long legal battles wait for a fair settlement rather than take less money quickly because they need the cash.

Daren Monroe writes for Litigation Funding Corp. To learn more about lawsuit funding and litigation funding, visit Litigationfundingcorp.com.

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