A same sex couple has been awarded compensation of $3.25m (£2.53m) after their adopted baby boy was murdered by his 17-year-old birth father, weeks after he regained custody of the child.
Rachel and Heidi McFarland badly wanted a child so when they found out that Rachel’s teenage co-worker, 16-year-old Markeya Atkins, was pregnant, they arranged to adopt the baby. They were present at the child’s birth in Des Moines, Iowa, in December 2013 and the boy became theirs.
However, in March 2014, Ms Atkins changed her mind and reclaimed custody of the child, which she was able to do because she had not signed the adoption release forms.
5 weeks after she reclaimed the child, the baby’s birth father, Drew James Weehler-Smith, murdered him by shaking him till he died.
He was later convicted of second-degree murder and jailed for 50 years. This sad incident happened while his birth mum, Ms Atkins was at a concert.
Afterwards, Rachel and Heidi McFarland sued their lawyer, Jason Rieper for malpractice because he wrongly led them to believe three-month-old Gabriel’s biological parents had signed release-of-custody papers, when they didn’t sign it at all. Rieper told them there was nothing they could do about Ms Atkins wanting her child and they had to give him back, so they did.
Rachel and Heidi won the case and have been awarded compensation of $3.25m (£2.53m). A judge at the Iowa District Court for Polk County awarded the settlement after ruling the lawyer acted negligently.
“The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent. Obviously our child and us weren’t a priority to (Mr Rieper),” Rachel told People magazine. She added she did not expect to receive much of the compensation.
“We are just happy he was found negligent,” she said. “That was what our goal was. We will not see any money from this.”
The MacFarland’s lawyer expressed joy over the settlement, sating that justice was served even though it wont bring Bariel back. She took to her Facebook pae and wrote:
Ms Atkins claims that the MacFarland’s helped her buy groceries while she was pregnant. So felt obliged to give the baby up because was young and broke.
Gabriel in Feb. 2014
Meanwhile, Mr Rieper’s lawyer, David Brown, said he would look to challenge the jury’s verdict in the civil trial, which focused on the adoption case and not the child’s murder.
David Brown said: “You can’t control the emotion of a birth mum, and you can’t control the emotions of a 16-year-old birth mum. At the end, the kid wasn’t going to (sign the papers) and the suggestion that Jason was to force her to do it, would be unethical for him.”
Ms Atkins in 2014, reiterated that while she was pregnant, the MacFarland’s bought her groceries, but that she chose to take Gabriel back because she felt the McFarlands had grown distant since getting him and that she was afraid he would no longer be a part of her life.
She said then, “It’s like after I gave the baby to them, they didn’t care.”