DES MOINES, Iowa -- A Des Moines teen was sentenced Wednesday for second degree murder in the death of his baby son.
Eighteen-year-old Drew Weehler-Smith was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison and must serve 17.5 years before he can become eligible for parole.
"You're going to spend about the amount of time that you've currently lived on the planet Earth in prison as a mandatory minimum. At that point of time, depending on what you've proved in prison, you may have the opportunity for parole," said Judge Jeffery Farrell.
Weehler-Smith was initially charged with first degree murder in the death of his four-month-old son Gabriel McFarland, but accepted a plea deal for second degree murder in January. The child was in his care in April of 2014 when he left the child alone at the apartment of the baby’s mother.
When the mother returned home she found the baby unresponsive. An autopsy showed Gabriel died from severe head injuries. Prosecutors say Weehler-Smith shook the baby and caused his death.
During the sentencing hearing, Weehler-Smith’s mother testified on her son's behalf.
"He’s really a kind-hearted person. He always has been. He’s a very sensitive, compassionate. This really was totally out of character for him. I’ve never seen him hurt anyone or anything," said Deb Smith.
Smith said she wasn’t aware she had a grandson until Des Moines police contacted her after Gabriel’s death.
Weehler-Smith apologized during the hearing and asked for forgiveness.
"One of the biggest problems is forgiving myself and I just want to apologize to everybody who I've affected," he said.
Baby Gabriel still bears the name of his adoptive parents, Heidi and Rachel McFarland. The couple was in the process of adopting him when Gabriel's birth mother changed her mind.
"I’m not saying that I forgive Drew because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get to that point in my life, but I think that he might be able to become a much better person in prison," said Rachel McFarland.
After all the couple's heartache, they have some good news to share. They adopted a girl last summer and Heidi is expecting another girl next month.
"I’m really happy that all these wonderful things have come out of this, but the grief and sadness is very profound," said McFarland.
The couple is suing their attorney over claims he botched the adoption. The McFarlands say he failed to file paperwork terminating the birth mother's parental rights which allowed her to regain custody.