Country of Trial: Qatar
Charge: Murder
Sentence: 3 Years
The California Innocence Project represented Matt & Grace Huang alongside a team of legal and political experts coordinated by the David House Agency.

Grace & Matthew Huang

Years Served: 2

On December 3, 2014, Matthew and Grace Huang boarded a plane for Los Angeles and escaped their nightmare.  The Huangs are an American couple from Los Angeles, California who moved to Qatar with their three adopted young children in 2012. Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, was there 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. Nonetheless, the Qatari police immediately suspected foul play. They arrested the Huangs and put their other two children in an orphanage. Qatari officials subsequently charged Matthew and Grace with murdering Gloria based on a theory that they planned 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 was 25 years in prison, but prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Ultimately, although no evidence was introduced to support the prosecution’s case and ample evidence was introduced to establish innocence, the Huangs were convicted on a negligence theory and sentenced to three years in prison. The prosecution’s case consisted of a fraudulent autopsy report, fabricated police testimony, and a distorted version of the legal adoption proceedings. No science or forensic evidence supported the conviction. Gloria’s body showed no signs that she had been abused and witnesses testified that she was active and happy.

Prior to her adoption by the Huangs, Gloria was born into extreme poverty in Ghana and was not adopted until she was four years old. When she arrived in the United States 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.

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 testified that 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.

The Huang convictions were reversed by the Qatari Appeals Court and they were found to be innocent on November 30, 2014.

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