First off, let me just say straight out that I regard all or certainly most court proceedings as being just exercises in nastiness, and I'm glad that events have kept me far out of their precincts, except for having served on a couple of juries.
That said, lately I have had a renewed interest in looking at real cases on Court-TV. That interest doesn't reside much in how the law enforcement people conduct themselves or in questions of guilt and innocence. Instead it's all the other issues involved that grab me, and also I like checking out the parade of various witnesses.
Court-TV just finished a case in which an Iowa farmer shot and killed one of his neighbors. I don't think this trial appealed much to the urbane commentators on the show, but I was fascinated, not least because of the picture that the case painted of the farm culture in Iowa, which is so different from the rural life here in Virginia yet also has many similarities.
Court-TV advertised the killing as being the result of a land feud, and therefore I thought it would be a fight over boundaries, but this dispute had another cause that usually is less lethal.
A farmer named Lyon, who already owned 390 acres, had been using an adjoining farm whose male owner had died. He had told the widow that if she ever decided to sell, he wanted the first crack at it. The widow and the farm's co-owner, her extremely sharp daughter, took their time about deciding, but, once they decided, they moved fast. They listed it with a realtor, and later the same day, they told Lyon what they had done. Lyon wasn't happy with the price they asked or with the fact that they had listed it first before offering it to him.
The very next day, a neighboring farmer named Heemstra, a land baron of sorts, made an offer, and the ladies answered with a slightly higher counter-offer. Heemstra immediately accepted, and he ended up with the farm.
By previous agreement, however, Lyon still had the right to use the land for several more months. When cold weather started to set in, there was some mixup about Heemstra turning off some of the water that he didn't think was being used. The water was turned back on, but that added to the contention caused by the sale of the land. There was conflicting testimony that on the one hand Lyon continued to be furious about losing out, and he took his resentment out on the successful buyer. On the other hand someone said that Lyon was glad that he hadn't gotten that land with its attendant financial burden.
According to Heemstra they kept having confrontations of one sort or another, till finally, at about 3 one cold morning, they met up on a road in their pickups. Lyon swerved and partially blocked the road, stopping, and ordered Heemstra to get out of his truck. Heemstra did so, and they had more words, at the end of which Heemstra pulled out of his truck a .22 rifle that he had taken to carrying. Lyon had no weapon, yet in self-defense, as Heemstra said, or in a rage, as the prosecution said, Heemstra pointed the rifle at Lyon, and, being dared to, he pulled the trigger, and Lyon died instantly from a bullet to the head.
Heemstra didn't tell anybody what he had done. Instead, as Lyon was too big and heavy for him to lift into his pickup's bed, he strapped him to his pickup and dragged him a short distance into an adjacent field and dropped the body into a shallow well, head first, afterward covering him with hay but not enough, so that Lyon's feet stuck out.
While Heemstra tried but failed to conduct his affairs normally in the next day or so, Lyon's family and friends quickly noticed his absence and started a wide-ranging search. The body was soon found, and Heemstra readily admitted to being the shooter, but said he had done it in self-defense.
Not surprisingly the jury found Heemstra guilty of first-degree murder.
I missed the beginning of this case, and I don't know how much testimony was offered about certain things, especially the amount of provocation, which only one man, the defendant, could really know for sure. The way that Court-TV conducts its shows wasn't helpful, as they are lamentably short on showing court proceedings and entirely too long in letting its commentators ramble on with their opinions, which often are not well-grounded and instead actually offer a running insult to the viewers, who apparently are seen as not having an equal capacity to analyze and to draw their own conclusions. Also the TV people seem to think that trial proceedings are too dry and dull and need to be spiced up with bright and peppery remarks by glossy TV big mouths. But I find the "dry, dull" everyday people who are testifying to be much more interesting than the Court-TV stars. I like to study the appearance and the bearing and the speech of the everyday people and to wonder who they are and where they've been and where they're going.
The Court-TV people, having consigned Heemstra to life imprisonment from the start, felt gratified by the decision, but they were dismayed by the fact that it took the jury 11 hours to reach the verdict. It did look like an open and shut case, yet I, on the other hand, was glad that the jury didn't summarily consign a man to a harsh fate without first taking the time to ask a few questions.