Matthew and Grace Huang are an American couple from Los Angeles being wrongfully imprisoned in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. They have been charged with murdering their eight year-old daughter and accused of human trafficking. 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. This is a case of faulty science and what appears to be racial and cultural misunderstandings by the Qatari officials about American norms regarding international adoptions and homeschooling. The Qatari officials have, to date, refused to acknowledge that mistakes were made and the Huangs have been imprisoned in Qatar since January 2013. There has never been a case like this in the State of Qatar. Their trial, at which the death penalty is sought, has just recently begun.
The Huangs moved to Qatar with their three young children in 2012 so that Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, could work for two years on a major infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup improvements. Matthew and Grace had adopted all three of their children out of Africa. In all the adoptions, the Huangs utilized a respected adoption agency and obtained all the proper visas from the State Department. The Huangs’ middle child was Gloria, whom they adopted from an orphanage in Ghana in 2009.
On January 15, 2013, while the Huangs were in Qatar, Gloria suddenly died. Gloria had not been ill, at least not outwardly so. Everyone who saw her in the days before she died thought Gloria was a normal, healthy eight year old. What many did not know, however, was that Gloria had a series of eating issues tracing back to the time of her adoption and that likely were triggered by the extreme poverty she endured at an early age. The Huangs were aware of their daughter’s eating issues, had educated themselves about the best way to handle those issues, and were attempting to manage the situation and help her grow out of it.
When Gloria died, the Qatari police suspected wrongdoing by her parents, but for wholly misguided reasons. The Huangs are an unconventional family. Matthew and Grace are Americans, of Asian descent, with three adopted black children from Africa. The police investigating Gloria’s death found the family situation inherently suspicious. 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.
The investigative reports also contain allegations that the Huangs acted suspiciously. Citing solely unnamed sources who they refuse to identify, the Qatari police in their reports say that the Huangs kept to themselves, did not often let their children out into their neighborhood, were stingy with their children, and that Gloria vanished from sight about 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 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 Grace’s parenting skills and the way they care for and love their children. Some of them were at the Huangs’ Doha home the night before Gloria died. They saw Gloria sitting with the family and walking around. We have gathered signed statements from these individuals to demonstrate that numerous allegations and concerns in the investigative reports are untrue. To date, the Qatari officials have refused to acknowledge the statements and instead have testified at trial solely about what they have learned from their alleged unidentified sources.
The police also suspected wrongdoing because Matthew and Grace explained to them that Gloria had not eaten for about four days prior to her collapse. That Gloria did not eat over those four days is likely accurate. But that was not because her parents did not provide her food. Gloria was in the midst of one of her cycles where she would refuse to eat. The Huangs had experience with this situation and fully expected Gloria would resume eating soon, as she always had before.
Why did Gloria die? The forensic medical consultant in Qatar is not entirely clear why he believes Gloria died. He initially claimed that food was withheld from Gloria and so she essentially starved to death. But that initial conclusion was not accurate, as even the medical consultant now seems to recognize. As noted, Gloria was seen by independent third parties walking around her home the day before she died. Her brothers recounted to the police how they had played with her and that she had appeared normal in the days before she died. A child can go a few days without eating, or eating only a small amount, without any risk of starvation. A child will not have the strength to be walking around a day before starving to death. Gloria also lacked other physical hallmarks of a child who was starved to death or abused. We 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. Other learned physicians concur in this conclusion. We do not currently know what the Qatari officials now believe was the cause of Gloria’s death, but it is clear that they have presented no medical evidence whatsoever that she was abused or murdered.
While Gloria’s death came entirely as a shock to all who knew her, it is important to keep in mind that she was adopted out of extreme poverty in Ghana when she was four. Information about her genetics and family medical history are unknown. She had a parasitic infection when she was adopted and was always small in stature and low in weight. She had a Vitamin D deficiency and her most recent blood work revealed an emerging pattern of potentially serious deficiencies. She also had a cyclical eating disorder common for children who come from her background. But outwardly she appeared healthy and she indisputably was well cared for. She played with her siblings, went to church, rode horses, and loved her family. And her parents loved her.
The Qatari police may have been 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 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.