Matthew and Grace Huang are an American couple from Los Angeles who moved to Qatar with their three young children in 2012. Matthew’s American employer had asked Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, to go to Qatar to help oversee a major infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup improvements. On January 15, 2013, the Huangs’ eight year-old daughter, Gloria, died unexpectedly in Doha. Gloria had not been ill, at least not outwardly so. Her body showed no signs of trauma or other violence. Nevertheless, the Qatari police immediately suspected foul play. They arrested the Huangs the next day and put the Huangs’ other two children in an orphanage. Qatari officials subsequently charged Matthew and Grace with murdering Gloria, concluded thier plan was to harvest her organs or to conduct medical experiments on her, and accused the Huangs of obtaining all three of their children via human trafficking. If convicted, the minimum sentence facing the Huangs was 25 years in prison, but prosecutors sought the death penalty. As their trial started and stopped, the Huangs spent nearly a year in a Qatari jail, before being released on their own recognizance after the evidence portion of their trial concluded in November 2013. They remained barred from leaving Qatar while awaiting the outcome of their trial.
The Qatari court scheduled that the verdict would be announced on March 27, 2014. On that day, the court sentenced Matthew and Grace to three years in prison. Inexplicably, the court did not render a verdict of any kind – it did not find Matthew and Grace guilty or not guilty of murder or any other crimes. It simply sentenced them to prison and imposed a fine of 15,000 Qatar Riyals (USD $4,100). They are innocent and their continued detention in Qatar is a gross violation of their rights as established in the United Nations Charter on Human Rights.
Quite simply, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Huangs harmed Gloria, let alone murdered her as part of an effort to harvest her organs or perform medical experiments on her. Instead, the case against the Huangs is rooted in transparently racial and cultural prejudice by the Qatari police and prosecutor and has been perpetuated at trial by fraudulent evidence and testimony about what anonymous sources supposedly told police.
The Huangs are an unconventional family, particularly by Qatari standards. Matthew and Grace are of Asian descent. Their three children all are black and were adopted by the Huangs from Africa. The Qatari officials found the Huangs’ family situation inherently suspicious. And it is clear that these racially motivated suspicions are what led to the Huangs’ arrest and subsequent prosecution.
Within two days of Gloria’s death, police accused Matthew and Grace of engaging in human trafficking. During the investigative proceedings, the prosecutor asked a police investigator to describe the “intent” of Matthew and Grace “in buying the children.” The investigator responded:
The investigations established that the two defendants, Matthew and Grace Huang, participated with others in child trafficking, most likely to either sell their organs or to conduct medical experiments on them.
Police have never offered any actual evidence to support these false and vile accusations. Instead, they accused Matthew and Grace of the most deplorable conduct imaginable based on their bigoted belief that an Asian-American couple’s adoption of African children is inherently suspicious. According to the Qatari investigators:
[T]he adoption process consists of searching for children who are good-looking and well-behaved, and who have hereditary features that are similar to those of the parents. But the children connected to this incident are all from Africa and most of the families there are indigent.
On the very first day of trial, the prosecutor asked the very first witness whether there was a connection between the murder charge and the allegation that “the Accused starved the Victim for the purpose of human trafficking and human organ trafficking.” The witness responded:
There could be a connection. . . . The deceased girl was black from Africa with a plump figure, while the parents have wheaten or white complexion. Those who adopt normally choose beautiful children.
To be very clear, in all the adoptions, the Huangs utilized a respected adoption agency and obtained all the proper visas from the U.S. State Department. Even after being presented repeatedly with the adoption paperwork, the Qatari prosecutor and police at trial persisted in accusing the Huangs of human trafficking and claiming the Huangs “bought” the children. Of course, if Qatari officials truly believed the Huangs were engaged in human trafficking, then it is hard to explain their decision in September 2013 to allow the children to return to America and reside with Grace’s mother and father and to not call them as witnesses.
Although the prosecution’s case against the Huangs steadily crumbled, the case continues. Rather than present actual proof that the Huangs were engaged in human trafficking or that Gloria was mistreated, the prosecution instead called police investigators as witnesses who testified that “anonymous sources” told them the Huangs were mysterious, stingy, kept to themselves, and that Gloria had “vanished” in the days leading up to her death. The Huangs, by contrast, presented live witnesses from Doha who knew the Huangs and who testified how they had traveled with the Huang family, attended church, parties and meals with them, and about how lovingly the Huangs treated all their children. The police further testified about how their examination of the Huangs’ home showed only the bare essentials in Gloria’s room and no toys. The Huangs produced pictures proving that Gloria had her own fully furnished room with an adjoining bathroom, a wide wardrobe of clothes, and a dedicated playroom full of games and toys. Every testifying witness who knew the Huang family prior to Gloria’s death testified that the Huangs loved Gloria and that Gloria appeared healthy and well treated
Similarly, no science or forensic evidence supports the charge that the Huangs murdered Gloria. Again, Gloria’s body showed no signs that she had been abused. She was, however, very thin, so Qatari investigators speculated that she died of starvation or dehydration, even though the medical examiner at trial testified that he never reported that she had died of starvation. In any event, the Huangs have shown this theory to be objectively false.
Gloria was born into extreme poverty in Ghana and was not adopted until she was four years old. We thus do not have the benefit of any family medical background or genetic history from Africa. When she arrived in America she had Giardia, a parasitic condition that can be difficult to eradicate and can cause a nutritional problem -- i.e., impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. She later tested positive for Vitamin D deficiency and had other unusual blood work that, in retrospect, indicated a continuing malabsorption problem. From time to time she would exhibit an eating disorder -- common among children with backgrounds similar to hers -- where she would refuse food for days at a time and then eat more than an adult. Other times she would eat food from the garbage even when she had healthy food available. Yet most of the time she was vibrant and seemingly healthy. She then died suddenly in the midst of one of her cycles of refusing to eat.
On January 15, 2013, the day that Gloria died, she had refused [nutritious] food when offered for a couple days. However, this was not atypical and her older brother stated that she was still “active and lively.” Later that evening around 8:30 p.m. when Matthew went to check on Gloria, who was supposed to be resting in her room, he saw that Gloria was on the floor next to her bed. She looked like she may have simply fallen out of bed but when he went to her, he could see that she was very ill. Her shirt was soaking wet, she was foaming at the mouth, and she felt cool to the touch, but was breathing. Matt picked her up and immediately rushed her to the closest hospital. When they arrived at the hospital, the medical personnel performed CPR on Gloria for 40 minutes, but then stopped and told Matthew that Gloria had died from cardiac arrest.
Although it is still not known what caused Gloria’s death, the medical and other evidence shows that Gloria clearly did not die of starvation. A human body does not starve to death very easily. It takes significant time for the body to break down all its resources. A few days of not eating would not cause a child to starve. At trial, independent witnesses testified they saw Gloria eat on January 11, 2013, four days before she died. In addition, independent witnesses visited the Huangs’ home on the evening of January 14, 2013, the evening before Gloria died. They saw Gloria sitting with the family that night at their dinner table and walking around, including up the stairs to her room to go to bed. They swear she appeared happy and healthy. As a matter of medical science, a child who is one day away from starvation certainly would not be able to walk and would appear gravely ill.
There is also no basis for the allegation that dehydration caused Gloria’s death. Gloria had urine in her bladder at the time of autopsy. She also had easy access to water at all times. Her bedroom, where she was found by her father after she collapsed, had an adjoining bathroom with a working sink. Photos of her room taken after she died show that she also had bottles of water in her room. Both parents swear she drank fluids even when fasting. Her older brother told police that on the day of Gloria’s death, her mother gave her a bottle of water and made her drink. The medical examiner did not test her fluids, urine or blood at autopsy to assess her level of dehydration.
The medical examiner was not aware of Gloria’s medical history when he conducted his autopsy. He did not have her medical records from America. He also did not seem to be aware of or consider her cyclical eating problems.
The Huangs presented their expert reports to the Qatari court and prosecutor in June 2013. The reports criticized the autopsy for not doing proper laboratory analyses of fluids, blood and tissue. The Qatari prosecutor responded by filing with the court a highly suspicious laboratory report dated January 23, 2013, which purported to reflect that analysis was done on tissue taken from Gloria’s heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs at autopsy. The report is very strange in that it does not contain any data (e.g., test results) about what such analysis showed. The prosecution nevertheless claims that conclusory language in the report somehow proves that Gloria had no diseases or other conditions that may have contributed to her death.
The Huangs dispute the authenticity of the late-disclosed laboratory report. The autopsy report records that samples of her blood and vitreous humor were sent to be tested for drugs and common poisons, but no mention is made in the autopsy report of any tissues taken from her organs. Moreover, when Gloria’s body was returned to the United States, an American pathologist examined her remains and specifically noted in his report that tissue samples had not been taken from Gloria’s brain or major organs:
[T]here is no evidence that any tissue has been removed from the brain for microscopic examination. . . . Individual organs lay free within the body cavity; examination reveals no evidence of sectioning or cutting into, or through, the organs. . . . Since the organs have not been cut, there can be no tissues taken for microscopic examination at the first autopsy. . . . The failure to perform a complete autopsy, which would include taking samples of organs for microscopic examination, obtaining samples and submitting them for bacterial and viral cultures, and testing the eye fluids for electrolytes, means that many possible causes of death have not been ruled out. . . . The only cause of death [that can be] ruled out is trauma.
When an organ, such as a liver or kidney, is sampled as part of a post-mortem cause of death, the organ is typically sliced all the way through and often multiple cuts are made. There are different protocols for different organs, but the important point is this: if samples had been taken of Gloria’s organs, there is no chance that the American pathologist would have seen “no evidence” of such sectioning and cutting.
No tissue samples have been preserved. No photographs of the autopsy appear to exist. Obtaining and keeping such samples and photographs would be standard procedure in a child death case.
The Huangs have obtained an extensive report from one of the foremost pediatric forensic pathologists in the world. This physician confirms that the medical evidence does not support a medical conclusion that Gloria starved to death or was otherwise abused. We do not currently even know what the Qatari officials believe to be the cause of Gloria’s death.
This case has been infected from the beginning with cultural prejudices, reliance on anonymous sources, false testimony, missing documents and evidence, the appearance of a very suspicious medical report, and the prosecutor’s inexplicable invocation of Islamic religious references as a substitute for proof of guilt. This case fails to satisfy basic due process requirements and violates several provisions of the U.N. Charter on Human Rights.
The Huangs’ continuing detention in Qatar since January 2013 has taken an enormous toll on their physical, emotional and mental health. Not surprisingly, a psychotherapist has diagnosed both Matthew and Grace as suffering from clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They have been overwhelmed with chronic stress, anxiety and despondency borne from the combination of i) Gloria’s sudden and tragic death, ii) the ongoing separation from their two sons, who in the course of 24 hours lost their sister and had their parents taken away from them, iii) feelings of helplessness and hopelessness stemming from extended and unfair trial proceedings and Qatari authorities’ complete disregard of evidence of their innocence, iv) chilling memories of the eleven months they spent in a Qatari prison, and v) fear and foreboding at the prospect of being sent back to prison if their appeal efforts fail. Matthew, in particular, is in a state of mental health crisis, triggered in part by him being sexually assaulted during his original incarceration. A Qatari psychiatrist has recommended that Matthew immediately undergo extensive psychiatric treatment, but Qatar does not have the proper resources to safely and effectively treat him.
The Qatari police were fully justified in investigating Gloria’s death. But facts refute the charge that the Huangs starved their daughter or that they had adopted her for illegitimate reasons. The continued detention of American citizens Matthew and Grace Huang should end and they should be allowed to travel home to the United States immediately.
The Huangs are represented by:
Lewis and Roca is a large commercial law firm that is also known for its strong pro bono commitment to criminal justice, handling such landmark cases as Miranda v. Arizona (1966) and in recent years several cases where parents or other caretakers have been falsely accused of murdering a child based on medical evidence that has been misinterpreted. Because it has concluded that the Huangs are innocent, Lewis and Roca is representing the Huangs pro bono.
The California Innocence Project (www.californiainnocenceproject.org) is a non profit organization dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted individuals in cases where there is strong evidence of factual innocence. They review approximately 2,000 cases per year and select less than 20. Based on its review of the facts, they have certified that the Huangs are innocent.