A judge in Qatar on Thursday handed down a guilty verdict to an American couple, Grace and Matthew Huang, and sentenced them to three years in prison in the death of their 8-year-old adopted daughter in a trial that has drawn scrutiny from the Obama administration and American legal experts over its integrity.
"We have just been wrongfully convicted and we feel as if we are being kidnapped by the Qatar judicial system," Matthew Huang told reporters outside the courthouse Thursday, CNN reported. "This verdict is wrong and appears to be nothing more than an effort to save face."
When the judge handed down the verdict and sentence, he did not specify the exact charge for which they were convicted.
"The judge read literally a few sentences with no reasons given. There is a lot of confusion right now,” said Eric Volz of the American non-profit David House Agency which is representing the Huangs. "They're very scared."
The devout Christian couple was accused by prosecutors in the Middle Eastern country of starving their adopted daughter to death in January of 2013 in order to sell her body parts, but a leading U.S. legal advocacy group the California Innocence Project which took on their case has maintained that the couple is innocent and that the entire case was based on “faulty science” and misunderstandings by Qatar over interracial adoptions and homeschooling.
The couple has denied the charges against them and maintained that their daughter Gloria, who was adopted from an orphanage in Ghana, died after battling a childhood eating disorder.
"The prosecutor accused us of trafficking our legal adopted children with the intent of selling their organs. That is how ridiculous this is," Matthew Huang said after hearing the verdict. "So we are calling on the United States President Obama to call the head of state in Qatar."
The Huangs spent a year in jail before being permitted to give evidence in their defense.
Their lawyers also accused the prosecutor of fabricating evidence from the autopsy.
The judge further fined them $4,120 each and said they would be deported after they serve their sentence. They have two weeks to appeal the verdict.
According to the prosecution, the Huangs deliberately deprived their daughter of food and never took her to a doctor after she had not eaten for several days.
But the California Innocence Project has stated, “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 American legal non-profit accused Qatari police of suspecting foul play in Gloria’s death “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.
The group wrote that Qatari police reports repeatedly suggested “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.’” Based on this reasoning, police investigators concluded that the couple “bought” their children in order to harvest their organs or perform medical experiments on them.
“But it appears they did not know that adoptions of children from other countries and other racial backgrounds is common in the United States,” the California Innocence Project wrote about the case.
Furthermore, homeschooling was considered unusual to their Qatari neighbors.
According to an ABC report last year, Matthew Huang said that after he found Gloria near death in bed, he attempted CPR for 40 minutes with no success.
A day before the verdict was announced, the State Department expressed concern about the integrity of the legal proceedings.
“We have been concerned by indications that not all of the evidence was being weighed by the court and that cultural misunderstandings may have been leading to an unfair trial. We have at a senior level raised this case with the Government of Qatar on multiple occasions,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at her Wednesday briefing.
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.
Their two adopted sons moved back to California to live with their grandmother after their parents were arrested. The New York Times wrote that the couple spends five hours every day on Skype with their children to continue to homeschool them.