With reporting from Riham Sheble
In an unexpected move, a Qatar judge has postponed the trial of Matt and Grace Huang, an American couple facing murder charges over the death of their 8-year-old daughter, until next year.
This morning, the lower criminal court judge cut short the latest hearing after the defense and the prosecution both gave brief closing arguments.
The official, a different judge than the one who had previously been presiding over the case, also asked that the Huangs’ attorney submit a written rebuttal to the prosecution’s remarks to the court on Feb. 5.
Sami Abu Shaikha responded by saying that he had already prepared a 90-page defense.
In his oral arguments today, Abu Shaikha said that that the couple did not want or cause Gloria’s death, two criteria necessary for convicting them of murder. The prosecutor argued the opposite, accusing the Huangs of having no humanity, and asked the court to give them the death penalty for killing their daughter.
Both referred to official documents to bolster their case.
The Huangs were arrested in January, the day after Matt Huang found his adopted daughter dead in her bedroom in Doha and took her to Al Emadi hospital. Gloria’s official death certificate states that she died of dehydration and cachexia, or “wasting away,” a clinical term that often signals the presence of underlying conditions.
Abu Sheikha pointed to inflammation in Gloria’s pancreas and lungs as evidence of such conditions, which could have contributed to her death.
In his autopsy report, the forensic examiner states that her cause of death was “extreme emaciation resulting most likely from not eating for several days.” But while testifying in court this summer, he was careful to say she did not die of starvation.
After his daughter died, Matt Huang told police that she had not eaten in the three or four days leading up to her death. The family’s legal counsel has said this was due to an eating disorder that Gloria had been battling after growing up in extreme poverty in Ghana, which caused her to binge eat and then refuse food for long periods of time.
Earlier this year, the Huangs’ case was picked up by the California Innocence Project, a program run by the California Western School of Law that works to clear people it believes have been charged with crimes they didn’t commit.
The CIP has launched a website with the David House International Crisis agency and American law firm Lewis and Roca to refute the accusations against the couple.
The Huangs spent 11 months in jail this year, until last month, when a judge ordered them released and travel banned, pending the outcome of the trial. Their sons, who are also adopted, were permitted to leave Qatar in October to stay with family members in California.
The couple declined to comment to Doha News during today’s hearing, but Eric Volz, Managing Director of David House, which is managing the Huangs’ defense and public relations, said:
“We are disappointed and perplexed by the Qatari court’s decision to delay the legal process for another 3 long months. Our clients will continue to fight through the appropriate legal channels in order to demonstrate their innocence.”
Following the submission of the defense’s written arguments in February, the judge is expected to set a verdict date.