After their adopted son was reclaimed by his biological parents, only to be murdered by the birth father five weeks later, an Iowa couple has collected $3.25 million in a malpractice lawsuit against their former lawyer — who they say acted negligently during the adoption proceedings.
“The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent,” Rachel McFarland told People magazine, accusing attorney Jason Rieper of failing to properly sever parental rights. She, along with wife Heidi McFarland, had been in the process of adopting a son named Gabriel from the daughter of Rachel’s co-worker. After welcoming their baby boy into the world on Dec. 28, 2013 — they were both present at his birth — mother Markeya Atkins decided two months later that she wanted him back.
“We coached her through labor. I cut the umbilical cord,” Rachel shared. “He was in our arms and care the second he was born.” When they were forced to give him up on March 3, 2014, Rieper “said there is nothing left for us to do. She wants him back and you have to give him back. It was horrible. There are no words. We had him for 78 days. We loved him from the first idea.”
On April 22, Gabriel was discovered in Atkins apartment “alone, pale, wet and foaming from his mouth and nose.” A medical examiner determined the cause of death was head trauma. The McFarlands found out about his homicide on the news.
“Heidi was screaming, and I looked at the paperwork and it was the address. I texted [Atkin’s mother] and she confirmed it was him,” Rachel recalled. Gabriel’s birth father, Drew James Weehler-Smith, pled guilty to second-degree murder in 2015 and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. “It is a life sentence for all of us,” Rachel explained.
Shortly after, the grieving couple was contacted by another pregnant woman, and they adopted a daughter named London. Heidi later gave birth to another daughter, who they named Vienna. But Rachel stated that there will always be a hole in their hearts because of what they’ve been through. “[Gabriel] was just a sweet and beautiful baby boy,” she said.