Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dad pleads guilty to murder of 4-mont-old son; had just been taken from adoptive parents weeks before (Des Moines, Iowa)

Dad is identified as DREW JAMES WEEHLER-SMITH.

Father accused in infant's death pleads guilty to murder

Grant Rodgers, 2:36 p.m. CST January 30, 2015 A Des Moines father accused of killing his infant son pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Friday, avoiding a trial scheduled to start in February, said Polk County Attorney John Sarcone.

Prosecutors charged Drew James Weehler-Smith, 18, with first-degree murder in April of last year, alleging Weehler-Smith, then 17, killed his four-month-old son while the two were alone in an apartment where the child's mother lived. A medical examiner found that the infant, Gabriel King McFarland, died of head trauma.

The unusual case drew widespread media attention last year because Gabriel had been returned by his adoptive parents to his birth mother just weeks before his death. Ankeny couple Rachel and Heidi McFarland had adopted the infant after his birth, but Gabriel's birth mother, Markeya Atkins, wanted the child returned to her.

On the night of Gabriel's death, Weehler-Smith, then a junior at Des Moines Roosevelt High School, had been left alone with the child when Atkins went out to run errands. Police said that when Atkins returned, she saw Weehler-Smith driving away without the baby.

Atkins found Gabriel unresponsive in a chair inside the apartment. Weehler-Smith was scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 9, but will be sentenced on March 25.

A second-degree murder conviction under Iowa law is punishable by a 50-year prison sentence. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending to a judge that Weehler-Smith be required to serve at least 17 years before he's eligible for parole.

"Through negotiations of parties, that's what we agreed to," Sarcone said.

Weehler-Smith's attorney did not immediately return a phone call from a reporter.

The McFarlands filed a lawsuit in August against their adoption attorney, Jason Rieper, claiming that he botched the process and ultimately forced them to give the infant back to his birth mother. A 2016 trial date has been set in the case.