Ex-NYPD officer convicted of murdering autistic son after he froze to death in garage

A former NYPD officer has been convicted of second degree murder in the death of his eight-year-old son.

A Long Island jury also found Michael Valva, 43, guilty of four counts of child endangerment following the 2018 incident in which his son, Thomas Valva, died of hypothermia after being forced to sleep in a freezing garage where temperatures dropped below 20 degrees. .

Valva has been accused of subjecting his three sons to neglect and cruelty amid a bitter divorce and custody battle with their mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison and is expected to be sentenced on December 8, the Associated press reported.

His then-fiancée, 45-year-old Angela Pollina, who is also facing charges of second-degree murder and child endangerment, is accused of dozing Thomas with cold water during the 16 hours of torture while Valva worked night shifts as an NYPD officer, according to Newsday. Authorities testifying at the trial said the couple often made the brothers sleep in the garage naked and without blankets as part of cruel punishment.

On the day the child died, Jan. 17, 2018, Valva failed to help Thomas and then lied to authorities investigating the crime, prosecutors said.

Thomas’ organs stopped a few hours later in the hospital.

Thomas Valva died of hypothermia after being forced to sleep in the freexing garage of his father's Long Island home (Justice for Thomas Valva)

Thomas Valva died of hypothermia after being forced to sleep in the freexing garage of his father’s Long Island home (Justice for Thomas Valva)

“Although there is nothing we can do to bring Thomas back, we are satisfied with the jury’s decision,” Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said in a statement. “Michael Valva subjected his sons to horrific abuse, neglect and cruelty. He will now pay for cutting short the life of an innocent, helpless young boy who had a whole life ahead of him.

Valva’s lawyer tried to argue that he felt intimidated by the “evil mother-in-law” Pollina and that she had been the mastermind responsible for the cruel punishment.

“Whether it hurts, makes you angry, makes you mad, the facts don’t constitute murder,” Valva’s attorney said, according to FOX.

In court, school officials also testified that the Valva children often attended class soaked in urine and feces and appeared to have scratches and bruises on their faces and arms. A teacher told the court that Thomas was so emaciated he would eat crumbs off the school floor.

Teachers are said to have ‘flooded’ CPS lines and the children’s mother said she sent the department a USB drive containing 320 abuse evidence files, but an investigation into the abuse Valva was accused of taking part in was closed just ten days before Thomas died.

Ms Zubko-Valva has spoken openly about her fight with the justice system to gain full custody of her children. In a video posted by Ms Zubko-Valva in 2018, one of the children tells his mother that “daddy is going to put me outside” and “in the garden” if they say they love their mother.

After Thomas’ death, Ms Zubko-Valva filed a $200 million wrongful death lawsuit against CPS social workers and investigators, school officials from the East Moriches Union Free School District, attorneys of her children in the custody battle and Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman. Pollina and Valva are also named in the costume.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but a judge ruled in June that parts of the lawsuit could proceed.

According to Ms Zubko-Valva’s lawsuit, “Tommy’s death was not only foreseeable but completely preventable”.

Michael Valva, 43 (Michael Valva/ Suffolk County)

Michael Valva, 43 (Michael Valva/ Suffolk County)

“For more than three years, plaintiff Justyna Zubko Valva begged, pleaded and begged defendants to remove Tommy, along with his two brothers, Anthony and Andrew,” the filing, reviewed by The Independent reads, “from the custody of [Valva and Pollina] who had abused, starved and tortured children for years. The defendants did nothing.

Thomas’ teacher, Michelle Cagliano, told the court that Thomas was hungry so often that she decided to keep a diary whenever he asked for food, according to the New York Post. She would often feed him snacks and send him to the cafeteria, but would later encounter the disapproval of Pollina, who reportedly said Thomas was “manipulative” and a “liar”.

In one instance, Ms Cagliano recalled in court, she gave Thomas a pear and a cracker after he soiled his pants in 2018, which triggered Pollina’s rage. “She wasn’t happy with me,” Ms Cagliano said.

Edward Schneyer, the school’s principal, also said during the month-long trial that children often arrived at school with scratches on their faces, cheeks flushed and cold to the touch. The principal said reports to CPS led to accusations by Valva that school officials were harassing her family.

“We felt like as a team we weren’t getting the results we wanted to see,” Schneyer said. “We decided as a team that we were just going to flood the CPS hotline with calls.”

According to a 2020 indictment, Patch reported that the children slept in a room that did not have access to a bathroom. The garage was often called “the children’s room”. Each time they soiled themselves, they were punished by being forced to sleep on the floor without blankets or pillows, prosecutors said.

An assistant Suffolk County prosecutor at the time also said video was recorded of Thomas shivering on the cold ground “with eyes pleading for someone to help him”.

    (CBS New York)

(CBS New York)

Text messages at the time of Thomas’ death also show that Ms Pollina allegedly sent a video of the boy to his father before he went to bed and asked if she should send him to school the next morning. Mr Valva reportedly replied: “F*** that piece of s*** Thomas. He’s not going anywhere.

On the eve of Thomas’ death, Ms Pollina allegedly sent videos of Thomas lying in the freezing cold in Valva, local journalist Lisa Finn reported. Patch after the couple were indicted in 2020.

When paramedics arrived the next morning, it was 19 degrees outside, and they found Thomas naked, without a blanket and his sweatpants down to his knees.

Pollina had done her hair and as paramedics tried to get her pulse back, Valva reportedly showed no emotion, according to Patch.

When asked how he felt about the situation, he reportedly said he had been through more stressful circumstances,

Thomas died in hospital of organ failure caused by hypothermia.

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