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U.S. couple appears in Qatar court, accused of murdering adopted daughter

By Riham Sheble, for CNN
updated 11:35 AM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
Matthew and Grace Huang deny charges of murdering Gloria, one of three children they adopted from Africa.
Matthew and Grace Huang deny charges of murdering Gloria, one of three children they adopted from Africa.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Grace and Matthew Huang deny murdering their adopted daughter, Gloria
  • The prosecution accused the couple of deliberately starving Gloria to death
  • The defense argues that other medical conditions may have caused her death
  • Another hearing in the case is scheduled for February

Doha, Qatar (CNN) -- A California couple accused in Qatar of deliberately starving their 8-year-old adopted daughter to death appeared in court Tuesday.

The hearing was the first for Matthew and Grace Huang since they were released from custody last month on bail. They have been ordered to remain in Doha.

The couple deny charges of murdering Gloria, one of three children they adopted from Africa. She died in January.

Both the defense and the prosecution presented written and oral arguments to the court Tuesday.

The couple adopted three children from Africa.
The couple adopted three children from Africa.

In his statement, the prosecutor painted a picture of Grace and Matthew Huang as inhumane people who had been "cheaply sold" their adopted child.

He called for both to be given the death penalty for the girl's death and, in colorful language, suggested that he could visualize her rushing up to the judges' bench, begging for justice.

He said the Huangs kept Gloria locked in her room, deprived of food and water, and that a key was found on the outside of the door.

The prosecutor argued that both the hospital and forensics reports on her death indicated that she died of starvation and that any witness statements should be discounted by the court.

He also cited testimony from one of the girl's brothers, saying the child told prosecutors that their parents used to punish Gloria for stealing food by locking her into her room.

Medical records

Defense lawyer Sami Abu Sheikha argued that there is no evidence to indicate the couple had wanted to kill their daughter.

Witnesses had seen Gloria eating on the Friday and the Monday before her death in the early hours of Tuesday, January 15, the lawyer said, adding that two days without food would not have been enough for her to starve to death.

He also pointed to hospital and forensic reports that showed she died of dehydration and cachexia, a wasting condition. This can result from causes other than starvation, Abu Sheikha said.

The reports showed that her pancreas was inflamed, which could mean it wasn't working properly, and there was inflammation of the lungs, he said. The reports also showed that Gloria had ingested food and liquid that was still in her intestines and bladder, he said.

The defense lawyer also cited Gloria's siblings as telling the prosecutor she had been playing with them outside her room before she died. Other witnesses had also seen her the day before her death, he said.

Abu Sheikha added that photographs showed bottles of water beside the child's bed and that, in any case, her room had a bathroom where she could have drunk the water from the taps if she needed to.

He said her medical records showed that she had a history of eating disorders.

Defense effort

The judge ordered that the defense be given another chance to rebut the prosecution's arguments in a hearing February 5.

The two defendants appeared more relaxed and better rested than in their previous court appearance, when they were still in detention. Grace, who had previously appeared in court with her head covered, was this time dressed in slacks and a blouse with her hair uncovered.

No relatives of the Huangs' were in court Tuesday, but a handful of staff members from the U.S. Embassy in Doha were present.

The David House Agency, an advocacy group for Americans overseas, has been coordinating the Huangs' defense effort. In August, the agency set up a website that describes the circumstances of their detention.

Matthew and Grace Huang moved to Qatar in 2012 with their three adopted children. Matthew, a Stanford-educated engineer, was working on infrastructure projects related to the 2022 World Cup. But everything changed January 15, when he found his daughter dead.

The parents were arrested, charged with murder and accused of starving their daughter to death.

The David House Agency says Gloria's eating disorder involved starving herself and then bingeing on food. It says this disorder arose from her childhood in Ghana before she was adopted.

CNN's Leone Lakhani, Schams Elwazer and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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