A Los Angeles couple are fighting for their lives in a Qatar courtroom, where they are standing trial on charges they killed their 8-year-old adopted daughter. But the California Innocence Project said the case is based on faulty science and racial misunderstandings—the Christian couple is of Chinese descent and their three adopted children are from Africa, which led Qatar officials to suspect the couple trafficked the children for their organs.
If convicted, Matthew and Grace Huang could face the death penalty. Officials detained the Huangs in January and banned their two other children from leaving the country.
“Since moving to Doha, Matthew and Grace have not only experienced the loss of their daughter, but they are now left to struggle through a foreign court that doesn’t seem to understand why they would have even adopted special needs children from Africa,” said Daniel Chin, Grace Huang’s brother, in a statement released by a family spokesman.
The Huang family relocated to Qatar in 2012 when Matthew, a Stanford-trained engineer, began working on a major infrastructure project for the 2022 World Cup. In January, 8-year-old Gloria suddenly died from what coroners said was dehydration and wasting disease. The government claims the couple starved the child.
But Gloria, who was severely malnourished in early childhood in Ghana, had a history of eating problems, according to a report prepared in the United States by Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist who reviewed the case for the family. Gloria periodically refused food for several days and then binged or took food from bizarre sources, such as garbage cans or from strangers—a behavior her parents traced to her impoverished upbringing and were trying to address.
When Gloria died, she was in an anorexic episode and had not eaten in as many as four days, Ophoven wrote in her report. The behavior is not uncommon in adopted children who have suffered from severe malnutrition in their past, the report said.
Gloria also had been treated for an intestinal parasite, and recent blood tests showed severely low levels of a certain type of white blood cells that could have been a sign of an underlying bone marrow condition, as well as a vitamin D deficiency.
The medical examiner did not check for other possible causes of death. Instead, the investigative report by Qatari police raised questions about why the Huangs would adopt children who did not share their “hereditary traits” and raised concerns that the children were part of a human trafficking operation or were “bought” for organ harvesting, according to the family’s website.
The police cited unnamed sources that said the Huangs did not let their children out in their neighborhood and that Gloria vanished from sight a week before she died. But those allegations were provably false: The parents homeschooled the children and they socialized with many people in Qatar. Friends also testified that they saw Gloria sitting with the family and walking around the night before her death, which would not be typical for a starving child.
The Huangs are being kept on separate floors of a jail and see each other only during court proceedings, which have been intermittent. Their two other children are being cared for by their grandmother.
In a letter to Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, Calif., last Easter, Matthew wrote “The power of Jesus’ work on the cross gives us new life. I am reminded that Easter is a time for rebirth, renewal, and restoration. My family needs to be restored together. My emotions are tired and weary. Jesus brings restoration, and we are reminded of that this Easter.”