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Pasadena Couple Returns Home After Qatar Clears Them Of Starving Daughter To Death

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A Pasadena couple sentenced to jail in Qatar for starving their daughter to death has been cleared by an appeals court and are coming home. Matthew and Grace Huang were arrested in January of 2013 after their adopted 8-year-old daughter, Gloria, died from complications of malnutrition. The Huangs were first charged with premeditated murder, which was eventually dropped down to murder by negligence, and they were sentenced to three years in prison. Their remaining two children were sent to live with relatives in the U.S. The couple spent months in jail, and then months unable to leave Qatar as they waited for their appeal. Now, nearly two years after Gloria's death, the Huangs are coming home, ABC reports. An appeals court cleared them on Sunday and they boarded a plane for the U.S. today.

Eric Volz, a representative for the family, blamed cultural misunderstandings for much of the Huangs' ordeal.

Gloria had been adopted by the Huangs from Ghana in 2009, where she lived in extreme poverty. The Huangs have two other children, also adopted from Africa. The family moved to Qatar in 2012 when Matthew, an engineer, was relocated there to work on an infrastructure project related to the 2022 World Cup games.

The Huangs said that Gloria would often refuse to eat for days at a time, something that a pediatric forensic psychologist who reviewed the Huangs' case said was common for children who had previously suffered malnutrition. Gloria would refuse to eat for long periods of time, then binge eat—often from unusual places, like garbage cans or by getting food from strangers. Gloria also had other health issues, including a low white blood cell count, and she'd been treated for an intestinal parasite. The Huangs were continuously working with Gloria on her condition prior to her death.

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Investigators, however, had a different idea of what happened. They initially accused the Huangs of intentionally 'buying' their three children and starving them in order to later sell their organs on the black market—an offense punishable by death. Qatari authorities were confused by the Huangs, an Asian-American couple, and their adoption choices. According to the director of the California Innocence Project, the police report read, "Why would these Asian parents adopt black children?" Shoddy science came into play as well: the prosecutors alleged she'd been starved, but Gloria displayed no previous symptoms of starvation; rather, she was walking around the day before she died, something that a child who was dying of starvation would be too weak to do.

Throughout the case, the Huangs had the support of The California Innocence Project, the American Embassy and the website freemattandgrace.com was set up by an international crisis agency.