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 noticeably ill, and 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 a Qatari orphanage. Qatari officials subsequently charged Matthew and Grace with murdering Gloria by starving her, concluded the murder may have been done in order 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. A conviction would carry a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, but prosecutors sought the death penalty.
From the beginning, the trial was plagued by unexplained and unnecessary delays, during which Matthew and Grace remained confined in a Qatari jail under deplorable conditions. At trial, the Huangs submitted voluminous evidence that refuted the police’s allegations and established the Huangs’ innocence. That evidence included 1) proof that the Huangs adopted their children through an international adoption agency and in conformance with international law, 2) witness statements attesting to the Huangs’ love and devotion to their children, 3) descriptions of the Huangs’ ongoing efforts to provide Gloria with healthy meals and address Gloria’s eating issues stemming from challenges she faced growing up in a Ghana orphanage, 4) evidence showing Gloria appeared healthy, active and normal in the immediate days before her death, and 5) sworn testimony from one of the world’s foremost pediatric forensic pathologists explaining that it was medically impossible for Gloria to have starved to death.
The prosecution, in contrast, presented no reliable 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, which was rooted in transparently racial and cultural prejudice by the Qatari police and prosecutor, was perpetuated at trial by fabricated evidence and unreliable testimony about what “anonymous sources” supposedly told police.
In an attempt to counteract the Huangs’s expert reports, which established that Gloria could not have died of starvation and criticized the Qatari autopsy for not doing proper laboratory analyses of fluids, blood and tissue, the Qatari prosecutor filed with the court a highly suspicious laboratory report dated January 23, 2013. Despite no mention of lab work in the autopsy, the report purported to reflect that analysis was done on tissue taken from Gloria’s heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs at autopsy. The prosecutor urged that the report somehow proved that Gloria had no diseases or other conditions that may have contributed to her death. The late-disclosed report did not support any such conclusion. However, more importantly, the report appears to have been an obvious fabrication. What the prosecutor did not know was that the Huangs had requested a second autopsy, which was conducted by an American pathologist after Gloria’s body was returned to the United States. The second autopsy report expressly noted that tissue samples had not been taken from Gloria’s brain or major organs during the first autopsy. There is no way that the late-disclosed report could be accurate based on the observation of Gloria’s intact organs during the second autopsy. Thus the authenticity of the late-disclosed laboratory report is highly suspect, and the Huangs submitted a formal request to the Qatari Solicitor General to launch an investigation into the suspicious report. To this day, there has been absolutely no response to this request.
In November 2013, at the conclusion of the trial, Matthew and Grace were finally released own their recognizance but were placed on a travel ban and barred from leaving Qatar. Although the Huangs and their counsel took their release as a positive sign that they would soon be acquitted, the proceedings continued to be delayed and it was not until March 27, 2014 that the Qatari Court finally reached a decision. In a written Judgment, the trial judge correctly rejected all of the prosecution’s claims, finding that prosecution witnesses were not reliable and that their testimony amounted to speculation. He specifically found that Gloria “was not denied food,” that there was “no evidence that the defendants have deliberately starved [Gloria] to death,” and that the medical evidence “did not confirm that the victim was starved to death, contrary to what the above investigators said.” (Judgment at 7-8).
These findings should have resulted in the Huangs being declared innocent and free to return home to their two remaining children. Shockingly, that is not what happened. Instead, the judge took it upon himself to interject a completely new charge against the Huangs and then, while acknowledging that the Huangs had no notice of the new charge (let alone any opportunity to defend against it), the Court proceeded to find them guilty and sentence them to a three years in a Qatari prison.
According to the judge, while the Huangs were not guilty of murder, they had “exposed” Gloria to danger in violation of Penal Code Article 269, the theory being that they committed a criminal act when they did not take Gloria to the hospital after she had refused to eat for a few days (something that the evidence at trial showed was common for children like Gloria that suffered severe pre-adoption malnourishment and had never resulted in any danger to Gloria).
In response to the verdict, the Huangs immediately declared their innocence, and called upon the United States government to intercede. That appears unlikely at this time. The United States and Qatari governments are strong allies in the Middle East. The Al Udeid military base (the headquarters of US CENTCOM) is located in Qatar and the increasing importance of Qatar as a regional factor and financial investor have cemented the US-Qatar relationship in recent years. Just last month, Qatar acted as an intermediary in brokering the deal that freed United States Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. More recently, on July 11, 2014, at a public signing ceremony with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Qatar’s Defense Minister, the United States and Qatar entered into an $11 billion arms deal.
With no obvious diplomatic efforts forthcoming, the Huangs appeared for a hearing before the appeal court in Qatar and formally lodged an appeal of the unjust verdict on April 2, 2014, asserting their innocence on the previously uncharged child endangerment count and requesting that the three year prison sentence be overturned. Thereafter, the prosecution lodged its own appeal, also urging the appeal court to overturn the verdict and sentence, and instead find that the Huangs are guilty of murder. A hearing was later conducted, during which the two appeals were merged. Since then, the delays and lack of due process experienced during the trial have continued at the appellate level.
Despite repeated requests, the Huangs have not been provided a translator at any one of the 4 separate hearings related to the appeals. In the hearing on June 5, 2014, a translator was even present in the court but translation was not provided. Moreover, having now submitted the briefing on the appeals, the Huangs’ counsel moved the appeal court to close the case and render its decision. The prosecutor opposed the request in favor of further delay, this time requesting that the court allow them to present additional testimony by the Qatari pathologist who performed the original inadequate autopsy and who already testified during the underlying trial. The role of an appeal court is to review the trial court’s proceeding and verdict for errors. The prosecution, however, is seeking a second chance to try their case in the hope that they will do a better job of convincing this court of their trumped up theories. As such, the Huangs vehemently opposed the prosecutions efforts to present new evidence at the appellate level and further delay the proceedings. Despite their opposition and the obvious break with any semblance of appellate protocol, after a short deliberation, the Court sided with the prosecution and has set yet another hearing in this matter for three months away.
On the final court hearing on October 20, 2014, the prosecutor improperly presented new testimony from the Qatari pathologist. In his testimony, the pathologist contradicted his previous testimony from the original trial, which the court continues to allow. The defense attorney was shockingly not allowed to cross-examine the witness. As prosecutor continued to argue that the Huangs’ "purchased the children" and starved their daughter, Matthew responded by bursting out "You lie! You lie!”
Although the Huangs were hopeful for some more attention to due process and their factual innocence following the U.S. government's public request for their release, the court continues to show its disregard and disrespect for the US Government call for their release. A decision from the appellate court has been scheduled to be delivered on Nov. 30th, 2014.
Throughout these delays, the Huangs have repeatedly requested that Qatar lift the travel ban so they may join their remaining children in the United States and seek much needed and extensive psychological treatment. Their continued 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 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 ten 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. Qatar’s refusal to lift the travel ban under these circumstances is not only unjust, it is inconsistent with their own precedent, having previously allowed expatriates found guilty and sentenced to 6 years for negligently causing the deaths of numerous children and adults in the Villagio Mall fire tragedy to travel outside the country while awaiting appeal.
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. The Huangs are innocent and their continued detention in Qatar is a gross miscarriage of justice and violation of their rights as established in the United Nations Charter on Human Rights.
The Huangs are represented by:
The David House is assisted by:
Lewis Roca Rothgerber 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 Roca Rothgerber 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.