An Iowa couple won a $3.2 million judgment against their lawyer after their adopted son was reclaimed by his birth mother, and then murdered by his father, the Des Moines Register reports. Rachel and Heidi McFarland sued their former lawyer in 2014 for malpractice, charging that Jason Rieper failed to obtain a waiver of parental rights from baby Gabriel’s birth parents. A jury last Wednesday agreed, granting them the award for emotional distress. Rachel McFarland tells People it felt like “destiny” when a colleague’s pregnant teenage daughter agreed to let the couple adopt her baby. “Adoption wasn’t ever our No. 1 choice,” she says. But “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 were present at the baby’s birth in December 2013, named him Gabriel—”a strong name”—and took him home.
Three months later, their lawyer told them that birth mom Markeya Atkins wanted Gabriel back—and that’s when they say they learned Rieper had failed to get the necessary paperwork signed. Five weeks later, Atkins found the baby “alone, pale, wet and foaming from his mouth and nose,” per the Register. Gabriel’s father, Drew James Weehler-Smith, 17, pleaded guilty in 2015 to manslaughter. Rieper’s lawyer denies the attorney was responsible, saying the birth mom changed her mind. But a lawyer for the McFarlands, who now have two little girls, writes on Facebook that if Rieper had obtained Atkins’ signature, “it would have been impossible for her or the baby’s father to take Gabriel away from them.”(The US adoption industry is undergoing a troubling shift.)