An American couple in Qatar who were facing three years in jail after the death of their daughter have won their freedom, after a local appeals court threw out a lower court verdict this morning.
The judge who issued the decision said there was “no evidence that they put the interests of the girl in harm’s way.” He added, “the defense offered plenty of proof that they are not guilty.”
Matt and Grace Huang were sentenced to jail time by a criminal court in March, after being found guilty of child endangerment. They were allowed to remain out of prison until the appellate process was finished.
In addition to clearing the previous conviction, the judge also rejected an appeal by prosecutors to convict the couple on first-degree murder charges.
The couple was arrested shortly after their daughter Gloria died suddenly in January 2013 and faced murder charges. But a judge ordered them released nearly a year later pending the court verdict in that trial.
Gloria had not eaten in the four days leading up to her death, according to her parents.
The defense maintained that the child, who was adopted from Ghana, had an eating disorder that caused her to binge on food and then refuse it for long amounts of time.
Additionally, defense lawyers previously challenged the Qatar-based forensic examiner’s report.
A US pathologist who examined Gloria’s body when it was returned home said he found no evidence that tissue samples had been removed from her brain or major organs in Qatar, meaning no analysis could have actually been performed.
The judge referred to the US doctor’s report as factoring into his decision, and mentioned that were contradictions and discrepancies in the testimony of the forensic examiner, his initial report as well as Gloria’s death certificate.
Based on what he heard, the judge determined that there was no conclusive evidence that determined how Gloria died.
He also explained after delivering the verdict that another factor he weighed heavily was testimony during the first trial of witnesses who saw Gloria playing at her house approximately 24 hours before her death as evidence that the Huangs provided extreme care – as well as food, education and recreation opportunities – to their children.
Finally, he pointed to a statement cited in part by the prosecutor from one of Gloria’s brothers, Emmanuel, that his sister was not deprived of food or water, but needed her parents’ permission to eat.
The judge summarized that the defendants offered plenty of proof of their innocence as well as evidence that they are caring parents.
Matthew Huang spoke briefly to reporters outside court and read a prepared statement:
“This has been emotional trial for me and my family. Grace and I want to go home and be reunited with our sons. We have been unable to grieve our daughter’s death. But we want to thank the judge for today’s decision.”
For the past several months, the Huangs have been seeking a dismissal of this case, while the prosecutor pushed for the couple to be given a harsher sentence during the appeal.
The US has also been putting diplomatic pressure on Qatar to lift the travel ban the couple has been under for nearly the past two years.
Ahead of the couple’s last court date in October, the US State Department issued a statement saying the Huangs should be allowed to leave Doha to reunite with their two sons, who are staying with family in the states.
Outside the courtroom today, Grace Huang was asked by reporters what she was looking forward to the most about going home. She said “seeing our kids, seeing our sons.”
The couple may be able to leave Qatar as early as today, according to Eric Volz, managing director of David House Agency, which is handling the couple’s public relations.