A Southern California couple cleared in the death of their adopted daughter left Qatar Wednesday after a two-year legal battle.
A U.S. ambassador confirmed Matthew and Grace Huang had successfully passed through passport control and left the Persian Gulf nation on Wednesday. The couple is from the San Gabriel Valley and moved to Qatar while Matthew Huang worked in the country on preparations for its role as World Cup host in 2020.
Officials in Qatar, where the family had moved for work, had accused the parents of killing their 8-year-old adopted daughter Gloria by starving her and also of obtaining all three of their children through human trafficking.
The Huangs maintained their daughter died from an eating disorder. The Huangs appealed their sentence, and after a two-year battle, a court ruling absolved them of any wrongdoing in the death of their child.
Their departure comes after the nation lifted a travel ban against the couple. The case drew Washington's involvement, with U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith accompanying the Huangs on Wednesday at the Doha's Hamad International Airport to ensure they cleared passport control and reached their departure gate. The Huangs' lawyer was also present.
The couple is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Los Angeles, according to the David House Agency, an international crisis firm that has been working with the family.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it applauds the lifting of the travel ban, and is looking forward to seeing the Los Angeles couple reunited with their other children.
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"We feel relieved. We feel gratitude to the legal system in the state of Qatar, which after some time worked as a good legal system should," Smith told The Associated Press after ensuring the couple made it to their departure gate.
The Huangs were arrested in January 2013 on murder charges following the death in Qatar of Gloria, who was born in Ghana. The Huangs spent months behind bars before being let out on their own recognizance last November.
After murder charges were dropped, they were convicted in March of child endangerment and sentenced to three years in prison. They were allowed to remain free pending their appeal, but banned from leaving the country.
After a Qatari appeals court overturned charges of wrongdoing against the couple on Sunday and the judge told them they were free to go, the Huangs were stopped at the airport and had their passports confiscated as they tried to pass through airport immigration control later that day. The delay had been caused by procedural steps that needed to be completed first, according to the family's representative Eric Volz, who traveled with them Wednesday.
Relatives blamed a culture suspicious of interracial adoptions for the legal action, and said the couple never had time to grieve their loss.
A doctor in Qatar who conducted Gloria's autopsy determined that dehydration and a wasting disease were the cause of death. A report by Qatari police raised questions about why the Huangs would adopt children who did not share their "hereditary traits."
The Huangs said Gloria suffered from medical problems complicated by unusual eating habits. A report prepared in the U.S. by Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic psychologist who reviewed the case for the family, said that Gloria was severely malnourished when she was younger and would at times refuse to eat for several days before binge eating or getting food from unusual places, such as garbage cans or from strangers.
Despite Washington's involvement and concerns, the U.S. ambassador told the AP the case was never a political one.
"My request was only to make things move as quickly as possible, but this was not political, this was legal procedure," Smith said.
The Huangs, who are of Asian descent, have two other African-born adopted children who left the Qatar during the trial to live with relatives in the U.S.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the case a "Kafkaesque nightmare."
"The travel ban on Grace and Matthew Huang has been lifted and they have begun the long journey home to their family — this news is both welcome and very long overdue," Schiff said in a statement. "Now exonerated by the Qatari court of appeals, the Huangs are finally coming to the end of this Kafkaesque nightmare, which compounded the tragedy of their daughter's death. I appreciate the diligent work of the State Department, their family and friends, and supporters across the world in helping to secure their release."