Photo credit: Osama Faisal/AP
The California Innocence Project represents the Huangs with the David House Agency.
Today, the Qatari criminal justice system continued its absurd disregard for due process, equity, and common sense in the case of Matthew and Grace Huang, two Americans whose 6 year-old adopted daughter Gloria tragically died of complications relating to her early upbringing in impoverished Ghana. Qatari prosecutors accused the Huangs of murder, based on a theory of starvation in order to harvest and sell her organs, and were seeking the death penalty for Gloria’s death. They were sentenced to three years in prison, convicted of—actually, nobody knows what they were convicted of, because the judges never said.
Matthew and Grace Huang are United States citizens who moved to Qatar with their children, Gloria, Josiah, and Emmanuel in 2012. Matthew had been relocated by an American company which had won a contract to complete infrastructure projects for the Qatari government in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. Matthew and Grace are Asian-American; their children, all adopted, are from Africa. Gloria was the youngest of their three children, adopted as a young child from Ghana, in West Africa. Her experience as a child born into extreme poverty in Ghana was emotionally and psychologically traumatic for her, and she suffered from a number of medical issues, including a severe vitamin deficiency, digestive problems, and a pronounced eating disorder which occasionally caused her to refuse food for days at a time. But children are resilient, and Matthew and Grace are unbelievably patient parents. Despite her upbringing, Gloria began to get better after living with Matthew and Grace, putting on weight and suffering from fewer and fewer episodes of disorder.
Unfortunately, Gloria died in 2013 of causes that will likely never be fully known or understood, but were clearly connected to her upbringing and health care in Ghana prior to her being adopted by the Huangs. Qatari authorities thought otherwise. They believed Matthew and Grace were guilty of murder. They alleged the parents adopted Gloria, raised her for two years in their family, and traveled with her and their other children to Qatar—all so that they could eventually perform medical experiments on her, starve her to death, harvest her organs, and sell them on the black market.
In support of this outlandish theory, the prosecution relied on “secret” evidence, undisclosed to the family or their legal team, which the prosecution said showed the Huangs were guilty. Police officers testified under oath to things which were patently and demonstrably untrue—that Gloria had no access to running water, that she had no bed in her bedroom, and that the Huangs shackled or restrained Gloria in her room as punishment or discipline. Pictures of Gloria’s bedroom and the officers’ own police reports show how unrelated the officers’ testimony was to reality, but they did not change their stories. A Qatari medical examiner testified he knew, based on his autopsy and from the samples he took, that the cause of death must have been starvation; a second autopsy by an American examiner showed no samples were ever taken from the body, and the cause of death could not have been starvation.
This ordeal has been an unbelievable nightmare for the Huang family. They lost their child. They spent eleven months in jail awaiting trial for murder. They faced down a possible death sentence. They have now been wrongfully sentenced to three years in prison for a crime they did not commit. One of the strangest parts of the Huangs’ story is that the judges who sentenced them today did not state they were guilty of any crime. This decision should be immediately reversed and they should be allowed to return to the United States to be with their other children, who have been without their parents for more than a year. This tragedy cannot stand.
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Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101