Heartbroken couple wins $3.25 million lawsuit after their adopted baby son was murdered by his birth father

People video screenshot -- Rachel and Heidi McFarland win civil suit against former lawyer after baby they adopted was reclaimed by his birth parents and murdered by his father. The lawyer was found negligent for not making sure the adoption paperwork was correct and complete.

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All Rachel and Heidi McFarland wanted was to finalize the adoption of the baby boy they planned to raise together. On Tuesday, they went home with broken hearts, even after winning $3.25 million in a lawsuit. The Iowa couple sued their former lawyer Jason Rieper for malpractice after the baby they were in the process of adopting was reclaimed by his biological parents. Five weeks later, the little boy was murdered by his biological father. The couple claimed Rieper acted negligently in not getting the child’s biological parents to sever their parental rights.

“The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent,” Rachel told People. “Obviously our child and us weren’t a priority to [Rieper]. We are just happy he was found negligent. That was what our goal was. We will not see any money from this.”

The couple planned to adopt the baby from the daughter of one of Rachel McFarland’s nursing home co-workers. They attended his birth and named him Gabriel.

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“Adoption wasn’t ever our No. 1 choice, but because it was private, it seemed tailor-made for us, and we thought this could be our chance to become parents,” Rachel told People. “We didn’t know if we could do artificial insemination, and it seemed like a route we could afford. The birth mom didn’t care if we were a same-sex couple. It just seemed too good to be true — and it was too good to be true.”


The baby was born on Dec. 28, 2013, and a little more than two months later, the birth mother, Markeya Atkins, wanted the baby back. The McFarlands reluctantly gave up Gabriel.

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Five weeks after that, the McFarlands learned of Gabriel’s death while watching the local news. He died on April 22, 2014. Atkins told police at the time that she had discovered him in her apartment “alone, pale, wet and foaming from his mouth and nose” after leaving him with his birth father, Drew James Weehler-Smith, according to the Des Moines Register. Weehler-Smith, 17 at the time of Gabriel’s death, pleaded 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 said.

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