Rachel and Heidi McFarland were in the process of adopting a child when their baby was suddenly reclaimed by his biological parents. In a tragic twist, the baby was then murdered by one of the biological parents just five weeks later. While nothing would totally heal the wounds of the to-be adoptive parents, the McFarlands have gone on to win a $3.25 million malpractice suit against their lawyer, Jason Rieper, who was allegedly negligent in handling the severing of parental rights during the adoption process which led to the baby being taken away from them. “The release of custody never got signed by either birth parent. Obviously our child and us weren’t a priority to [Rieper]. We are just happy he was found negligent,” was how Rachel McFarland characterized it.
This was the culmination of a suit filed in August 2014, which in turn began when Gabriel, their baby, was born in December 2013. The McFarlands had arranged for 16-year-old Markeya Atkins, the daughter of a coworker of Rachel’s, to serve as their surrogate. “We coached her through labor. I cut the umbilical cord. He was in our arms and care the second he was born,” Rachel McFarland said. However, three months later, Atkins exercised her right to reclaim the baby, which was possible since Rieper had failed to sever the parental rights in the adoption process. Rieper’s attorney, David Brown, disputes this telling, saying that Rieper was not negligent and that Atkins’ emotions are the true culprit here. “You can’t control the emotion of a birth mom, and you can’t control the emotions of a 16-year-old birth mom. At the end, [Atkins] wasn’t going to do it and the suggestion that [Rieper] was to force her to do it would be unethical for him,” Brown claims. Brown went as far as to say “forcing” her to sign away the rights would have been “inappropriate”.
The McFarlands discovered that Gabriel had passed away by way of the local news five weeks after giving up their child. The McFarlands say they soon received a written report that the baby was found dead, and they had to confirm it via text to Atkins’ mother. According to Rachel, Heidi reacted by screaming. Gabriel was discovered dead on April 22, 2014 when Atkins arrived at her apartment and found the baby “alone, pale, wet and foaming from his mouth and nose,” as she told the Des Moines Register. An investigation later revealed head trauma was the cause of the baby’s death. Drew James Weehler-Smith, Gabriel’s birth father, was charged with taking care of the baby while Atkins was out. Weehler-Smith has since plead guilty to a charge of second-degree murder and is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.
Since then, Atkins has attempted to justify her reclaiming of Gabriel saying that she was worried the McFarlands were pushing her out of the baby’s life. “It’s like after I gave the baby to them, they didn’t care,” Atkins said. She also affirms that she had grown to love her baby very much. As for the McFarlands, they were approached by someone else offering up their baby for adoption, and they are currently raising a daughter named Vienna, although they continue to mourn the loss of Gabriel.