- Associated Press - Thursday, August 17, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa couple whose adopted son was killed after his birth parents regained custody in 2014 have won a $3.25 million judgment in a lawsuit against their adoption lawyer.

Rachel and Heidi McFarland were awarded the judgment Tuesday in a lawsuit against attorney Jason Rieper, The Des Moines Register reported . The couple alleged Rieper allowed them to believe he’d gotten the infant’s birth mother to sign a critical release-of-custody document when he had not done so.

“His negligence set our baby up on a course that was irreversible,” Rachel McFarland said.

The 3-month-old boy, Gabriel McFarland, died on April 22, 2014, about five weeks after his birth mother regained custody. She said she found the baby in her apartment “alone, pale, wet and foaming from his mouth and nose.” The child died from head trauma, the medical examiner said.

The child’s birth father, 17-year-old Drew James Weehler-Smith, was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in 2015.

In the lawsuit, the jury unanimously decided that Rieper’s actions caused the McFarlands significant emotional distress, according to court records.

“God bless the civil justice system for holding people accountable for the damage they do to others, and to this jury who came to the right conclusion even without all of the evidence,” said Roxanne Conlin, the McFarlands’ attorney.

Rieper didn’t immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment.

The McFarlands adopted a daughter after Gabriel’s death. Heidi McFarland then gave birth to their youngest daughter. The couple said they will always remember Gabriel.

“He is the baby that made us mothers,” Rachel McFarland said.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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