Prosecutors in Qatar have accused an American Christian couple of starving their adopted daughter to death in order to sell her body parts, but a leading U.S. legal advocacy group said they are innocent and that the entire case is based on “faulty science” and misunderstandings by Qatar over interracial adoptions and homeschooling.
If convicted, Matthew and Grace Huang could face the death penalty.
French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that a Qatari court released the California couple on bail Wednesday, but prohibited them from leaving the country. They have been in jail since January after their 8-year-old daughter Gloria, who was adopted from an orphanage in Ghana, died after battling a childhood eating disorder.
The Huangs are U.S. citizens. All of their children were adopted from Africa. The family moved to Qatar after Matthew Huang, a Stanford University-educated engineer, was hired to work on an infrastructure project tied to the 2022 World Cup games.
The California Innocence Project which is aiding their defense believes they have been “wrongfully imprisoned.”
“The Huangs’ daughter, Gloria, tragically and unexpectedly died while the Huangs were in Qatar. Contrary to the Qatari accusations, however, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Huangs harmed her,” the nonprofit group wrote.
The organization said police suspected wrongdoing after Gloria died “but for wholly misguided reasons.” The family appeared unconventional to the Qatari police, specifically that an American couple of Asian origin had adopted black children from Africa. This appeared to the police to be “inherently suspicious,” the California Innocence Project wrote. It provided examples of racial overtones in the Qatari investigation:
For example, the investigative police reports repeatedly suggest that Matthew and Grace could not have had a legitimate reason to adopt children who were not “good-looking” and who did not share their “hereditary traits.” The investigative reports theorize that Matthew and Grace “bought” their children in order to harvest their organs, or perhaps to perform medical experiments on them. Investigators in Qatar understandably are very concerned about human trafficking. But it appears they did not know that adoptions of children from other countries and other racial backgrounds is common in the United States.
That the family homeschooled their children was reportedly considered unusual to their Qatari neighbors.
The New York Times reported that during Wednesday’s hearing, “several witnesses testified about the Huangs’ character and child-rearing … The witnesses were questioned closely about the prevalence among Americans of home schooling, which the Huangs practiced, and the adoption of children from Africa.”
According to the California Innocence Project, Gloria, their middle child, died suddenly on Jan. 15. While she had appeared to be healthy, her parents knew she suffered from an eating disorder reportedly tied to her early childhood spent in extreme poverty.
The Huangs said that she could go days refusing to eat, at times fasting and during other times binge-eating and searching for food in unusual places including from garbage bins or from neighbors. Family supporters say the parents had educated themselves about her condition in an effort to manage it and help her outgrow it.
Qatari police reports said the Huangs kept to themselves, were stingy with their children and that Gloria disappeared from sight eight days before she died.
“All these allegations are relayed in an effort to make it appear that the Huangs are hiding something. All these allegations turn out to be provably false,” the California Innocence Project wrote.
“The evidence is very clear that the Huang family is a loving family. They participate in activities together, they travel together and they worship together. The Huangs also socialized with many people in Qatar. These people know the Huangs and they praise Matthew and Gloria’s parenting skills and the way they care for and love their children,” it added.
Al Jazeera reported that Matthew Huang was unshaven and wore a suit to Wednesday’s hearing, while his wife wore women’s prison attire consisting of a dark blue abaya (cloak) and black hijab headscarf.
At the hearing, friends – some from the church they attended – testified to their character. Family friend Annemarie Ford said, according to Al Jazeera, “I know that Matt and Grace did not starve their daughter to death … I saw them being a loving family. I think this is a big mistake.”
The witnesses testified that they had seen Gloria the day before she died and that she appeared to be healthy, even walking up the stairs.
“The defense argued that it’s medically impossible be walking around one day and to die of starvation the next,” an ABC News report stated.
According to ABC, Matthew Huang said he found Gloria foaming at the mouth and barely breathing in bed. He attempted CPR for 40 minutes with no success.
The father said that this occurred during a bout of starving herself for several days, something that occurred several times a year. When she was adopted at age of 4, she had a Vitamin D deficiency and a parasitic infection. In addition, her most recent blood test showed “potentially serious deficiencies,” the California Innocence Project said.
ABC reported that the Qatari pathologist wrote on her death certificate that dehydration and cachexia in which nutrients are not properly absorbed were the causes of death.
The defense team has not been provided tissue samples in order to conduct an independent medical examination.
“Our understanding is that this case is the result of a very small group of policemen who failed to accurately interpret fact of case due to deep cultural differences,” family spokesman Eric Volz told ABC News.
“It’s been a very long process … It’s been frustrating at times. It’s one of the strangest things we’ve experienced for sure. We believe this is going to be resolved, and the courts will find them innocent,” Grace Huang’s brother Daniel Chin told Al Jazeera outside the courtroom.
A verdict is expected in the case in December, Al Jazeera reported.
Grace Huang’s brother said in a statement Wednesday of the decision to release the couple on bail: “Though we see this as a positive step, their trial is not over … Until then, our family prays that the hearts and minds of the judicial leaders will be pointed to the truth.”
Last Easter, Matthew Huang wrote a letter to Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, Calif., an excerpt of which was published by the Christian publication WORLD Magazine.
“The power of Jesus’ work on the cross gives us new life. I am reminded that Easter is a time for rebirth, renewal, and restoration. My family needs to be restored together. My emotions are tired and weary. Jesus brings restoration, and we are reminded of that this Easter,” Huang wrote.