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Female Couple Awarded Millions After Birth Father Kills Adopted Child

Lesbian couple

The couple filed suit against their lawyer who failed to secure the adoption.

There's really no good outcome for such a horrifying story as the one a female couple in Iowa endured when the baby they were in the process of adopting -- who'd lived with them for three months -- was reclaimed by his biological parents only to die at the hands of his birth father. The couple, Rachel and Heidi McFarland, who sued their former lawyer Jason Rieper in 2014, alleging he acted negligently in failing to compel the child's birth mother to sign a release-of-custody document, was awarded $3.25 million in damages last week, according to People.

The story began when the McFarlands planned to adopt the grandson of one of Rachel's co-workers. The couple attended the boy's birth in December 2013.

"We coached [the mother] through labor," Rachel said of the child's birth mother, Markeya Atkins, according to People. "I cut the umbilical cord. He was in our arms and care the second he was born. We both wanted a boy and both wanted to name him Gabriel. It is a strong name. It is my favorite story from the Bible."

But by March of that year, after Gabriel had lived with the McFarlands for nearly three months, Atkins decided she wanted the child back for fear that the McFarlands would shut her out of his life entirely, and 10 days later he was back with his biological mother.

"[Rieper] said there is nothing left for us to do: She wants him back and you have to give him back," Rachel said about being informed by their lawyer that there was no recourse. "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."

And as gut-wrenching as having to give up the baby they loved and cared for was, the story only became grimmer. About five weeks later the McFarlands discovered during a local news segment that Gabriel's biological father Drew James Weehler Smith murdered the infant. A medical examiner found that the baby died from head trauma, according to the Des Moines Register.

Smith was convicted of murder in 2015, and sentenced to 50 years in prison. And while the judge in the malpractice suit against Rieper sided with the McFarlands, Rieper's attorney David L. Brown maintained his client should not be held accountable for the murder of the child.

"You can't control the emotion of a birth mom, and you can't control the emotions of a 16 year-old birth mom," Brown said, according to People. "At the end, [Atkins] 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 baby girl and Heidi later gave birth to another daughter, but the couple will be forever devastated by Gabriel's loss, they said.

"He is the baby that made us mothers," Rachel told the Register.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist