Rachel and Heidi McFarland [photo], adopted baby Gabriel at birth. They have been awarded $3.25million after their son was reclaimed by his birth mother, only to be murdered by his father weeks later. Their attorney was indicted for failure to perfect the adoption process
A lesbian couple in Des Moines, Iowa, have been awarded $3.25million for emotional distress against their own lawyer after their adopted baby boy was reclaimed by his birth mother, only to be murdered by his father weeks later.
Rachel and Heidi McFarland were awarded the multi-million compensation after a jury agreed that their adoption attorney, Jason Rieper, by not getting the child’s biological parents to sever their parental rights was negligently
The McFarlands were at the birth of their son Gabriel in December 2013 – and even cut the umbilical cord.
But just a few months later, the teenage birth mom Markeya Atkins, then-16, changed her mind about the adoption and took him back from the women who had brought him up as their own.
Gabriel’s mother, Markeya Atkins took him back on March 13 2014.
He was killed by his birth father five weeks later. According to police, the young mom left the baby with Weehler-Smith in an apartment, in Des Moines while she went to the library and to run errands
Within a few weeks, Gabriel’s father, Drew Weehler-Smith, then 17, was arrested for murdering the little boy.
The police report states that Markeya Atkins left 17-year-old Drew Weehler-Smith with the child so that she could run errands.But when she came back to the apartment on Chaffee Road he was gone and their son, Gabriel McFarland was unresponsive lying in a chair.
Paramedics rushed him to the hospital where he later died.
Wheeler-Smith has since been sentenced to 50 years in jail.
Heidi and Rachel McFarland said they were devastated when they learned that the little boy they considered their own son had died – while watching the news.
‘It’s like he’s been taken away from you again,’ Rachel McFarland told the Des Moines Register in 2014.
‘We brought him home from the hospital. I cut his umbilical cord.’
The couple, who had supported the mother financially through her pregnancy and had been with her at every doctor’s appointment, spent every waking moment with the baby – and had even planned to learn sign language after learning Gabriel was born deaf in one ear, in case he lost the hearing in his other ear.
Four-month-old Gabriel McFarland died on April 22 last year after he suffered an abusive head trauma while in the care of his teenage father, Drew Weehler-Smith.
Gabriel’s mother had just taken him back from adoption, weeks earlier
Drew Weehler-Smith received a 50-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his one-month-old son, Gabriel
Heidi and Rachel McFarland in court in Des Moines for the sentencing of Drew Weehler-Smith
‘It just felt natural. When he was with us it just felt right. Like we were always meant to be moms,’ Rachel told WHOTV.com.
The couple said they repeatedly asked Atkins if she wanted to go ahead with the adoption and she said ‘yes.’
After the tragic loss of their son, they filed a negligence lawsuit against Rieper in August 2014, claiming he failed to complete the basic adoption paperwork, which left the couple powerless when Atkins decided she wanted her baby back, Yahoo reports.
The couple said that the judgement felt like a weight has been lifted although they revealed they were unlikely to see all, if any, of the sum awarded for emotional distress after Rieper revealed he plans to challenge the result.
Rachel, who now has two daughters with Heidi, said that when they were told in March that Atkins wanted Gabriel back, their lawyer said there was nothing they could do.
‘If the lawyer had done what he was supposed to do, the birth mother would have signed a document called a release of custody and 4 days after she signed it, it would have been almost impossible for her or the baby’s father to take Gabriel away from them,’ Roxanne Conlin, who represented the couple, wrote in a post on Facebook.
‘The lawyer just didn’t get around to it.
‘The birth mom got mad at the McFarlands and ripped this baby away from the only parents and the only home he had known.’
‘The jury ‘also didn’t know that for every hour of every day he was not with them, Heida and Rachel worried that he was living in a cockroach invested apartment with a 16-year-old who drank and took drugs.
‘God bless the civil justice system for holding people accountable for the damage they do to others and to this jury who came to the right conclusion even without all of the evidence.’
Rieper’s lawyer said he plans to challenge the jury’s verdict in the civil trial.
He added that the birth mom had been emotional and that it would have been unethical for Rieper to have tried to ‘force’ her to sign the paperwork.
Four-month-old Gabriel King McFarland was found unresponsive on April 22, 2014, by his mother after she left the baby in the care of his father at their Des Moines home.
The boy later passed away, with an autopsy showing Gabriel of an abusive head trauma, which authorities say he suffered at the hands of his dad, who was 17 at the time.
Got him but couldn’t keep him: Gabriel’s mother, Markeya Atkins, took him back on March 13. He was killed by his birth father five weeks later
She explained that, after discovering she was pregnant five months along, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to raise the little boy so decided to give him up for adoption.
‘I just thought – the rest of my life – am I really ready to give away the rest of my life for someone,’ she said. ‘And I just felt like it was the best way to go about it.’
But in February 2014, she visited the couple’s home and had second thoughts when she saw Rachel kiss the little boy and said ‘mommy’s here’. She passed back the baby and stormed out, she said.
Afterwards, the couple texted Atkins’ mother and said she wouldn’t be allowed to visit alone without her mother there in the future – which angered Atkins, she said.
‘It really hurt my feelings because my mom was not there when I made the baby,’ she said.
She made a list of pros and cons about taking her son back and ‘couldn’t for the life of me’ think why she would want to have him again, she said.
She said that she did not appreciate the adoptive couple telling her that they hoped the tragedy would be a wake-up call for the girl.
‘They have no right to talk to me about that,’ she said. ‘I did absolutely nothing wrong.’
She decided to take the baby back, something she was allowed to do under Iowa law without the signed paperwork.
In Iowa, the birth mother has three months and then one additional 31-day probationary period to change her mind about giving up her baby.