With reporting from Riham Sheble
Final arguments were submitted to a Doha court today in the case of Matt and Grace Huang, an American couple who stand accused of starving their eight-year-daughter to death.
During this morning’s hearing, the defense also filed a petition to grant the Huangs permission to leave the country to visit their sons in the United States. A judge denied that request, and set the verdict for March 27.
The news puts the couple in an awkward position in Qatar as last month, Matt Huang resigned from his position as an engineer at MWH Global.
Since they no longer have company accommodation or an income, the Huangs are “living off of support from family and friends,” said Eric Volz, the managing director of David House Agency, which is handling the couple’s public relations.
The crux of the prosecutor’s closing argument was that the parents should be found guilty of “murder by abstention” for not taking Gloria to the doctor after she refused to eat for four days.
But the Huangs’ legal counsel maintains that Gloria struggled with an eating disorder since being adopted from Ghana by the Huangs, and that they were working with her to overcome it. Growing up in extreme poverty caused her to binge on food and then refuse to eat it for several days, their lawyer said.
Also at issue in the case appear to be misunderstandings about the adoption of black children by a Chinese American couple. Additionally, the children were being home-schooled by their mother, a concept that further seemed to vex court officials.
The Huangs were in jail for 11 months before being released in November pending the outcome of the trial. Their two sons, who are also adopted, were briefly put into a Qatar orphanage last year, before being placed in the care of their grandmother while the Huangs were in jail. The children were allowed to return to the US last October.
Today, the defense submitted a letter from an American psychiatrist stating that the boys were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the loss of their sister and from being apart from their parents.
According to Dr. Christie Winkelman:
“In my estimation, both Emanuel and Leven are suffering from heightened anxiety relative to this continuous separate (sic) from their parents. They are showing many signs of post-traumatic stress including sleep disturbances, anxiety, headaches and some digestive problems.
I believe that it would be best for both children to be reunited with their parents in the United States so that we can continue treatment and provide the best possible solution for the children.”
After brief deliberations, the judge denied the petition to lift the travel ban, and has set a verdict date for March 27.
Speaking to Doha News, Matt Huang expressed dismay about the decision:
“We have lost our daughter and our sons have lost their sister. This court has taken more than a year of our lives and the process has only made it worse. In the midst of our innocence, we feel that we have been kidnapped and we just want to go home.”
“This case is effectively testing the rule of law in Qatar. The question is whether science and evidence are going to be stronger than internal pressures from a prosecutor who is unwilling to consider that he was deceived by bad detectives. My clients, Matt and Grace, are innocent and they should be released immediately.”