An Iowa couple will receive $3.25 million after winning a malpractice lawsuit against the lawyer who represented them in an adoption case in which the baby boy they were adopting was reclaimed by his biological parents and then murdered by his birth father, People magazine reports.
Rachel and Heidi McFarland were awarded the judgement on Tuesday against their former attorney Jason Rieper, whom they blamed for not getting the biological parents of the boy to sever their parental rights.
“The release-of-custody never got signed by either birth parent,” Rachel McFarland said to 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 McFarlands had planned to have a private adoption in December 2013 from the daughter of one of Rachel’s co-workers. They were present at the birth and named the boy Gabriel.
“We didn’t know if we could do artificial insemination, and it seemed like a route we could afford,” Rachel said. “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 McFarlands cared for the boy for two months—until Rieper told them that the boy’s biological parents wanted him back.
“[Rieper] said there is nothing left for us to do: She wants him back and you have to give him back,” Rachel said. “It was horrible. There are no words. We had him for 78 days. We loved him from the first idea. We cut his little mohawk off. All we have left of him is his hair, and little did we know that would be all we had left of him.”
Just two months later, Gabriel died while being left alone with his birth father. Drew James Weehler-Smith, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2015 after a medical examiner discovered that the infant boy had died of head trauma.
Rieper’s attorney, David Brown, said that his client plants to challenge the result of this suit and that he couldn’t force the boy’s birth mother to sever her parental rights.
“You can’t control the emotion of a birth mom, and you can’t control the emotions of a 16 year-old birth mom,” he said. “At the end, the kid wasn’t going to do it and the suggestion that Jason was to force her to do it would be unethical for him.”
The McFarlands have since adopted a daughter, and Heidi gave birth to another daughter, but they told People they are still reeling from the loss of their son.
“He was just a sweet baby,” Rachel said. “He smelled good. He loved music. Our cats loved him and our dogs loved him. He was just a sweet and beautiful baby boy. He was learning how to smile when we gave him up.”