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Trial Begins For Ex-NYPD Cop Accused Of Autistic Son's Abuse, Murder

Michael Valva is accused of hosing down his 8-year-old son, Thomas, and then locking him in an unheated garage for 16 hours during freezing temperatures, after which the boy died of hypothermia. 

By Jax Miller
Tragic and Disturbing Cases of Child Abuse

Opening statements have begun in the murder trial of an ex-NYPD cop charged in the freezing death of his 8-year-old autistic son.

Prosecutors say Michael Valva, 43, subjected his two children to years of horrific abuse before his one son, Thomas Valva, was allegedly hosed down and left to freeze to death in the garage of the Long Island they shared with another son, Valva's fiancée and her three kids. Surveillance video from the home’s interior and exterior allegedly showed the boy scantily dressed in pajamas on the concrete floor, without anything to keep him warm, as temperatures dipped into the teens.

Suffolk County authorities responded to a 911 call from the home and found the boy on Jan. 17, 2020, then rushed him to an area hospital. He succumbed to hypothermia two days later.

On Wednesday, Valva — who, along with his now-former fiancée, Angela Pollina, is facing second-degree murder and other child abuse charges — appeared in a Riverhead, New York courtroom, according to Newsday, where Suffolk County District Attorney Laura Newcombe outlined the unfathomable abuse Valva and Pollina of which are accused, including years of starvation, neglect and beatings inside what became known as Long Island’s “House of Horrors.”

A police handout of Michael Valva

Pollina will face charges in a separate trial.

The engaged couple forced Thomas and his 10-year-old brother, Anthony (who also has an autism spectrum disorder) to sleep in the unheated garage the night before Thomas died as punishment for their purported inabilities to control their bladders.

Valva is accused of regularly denying the boys access to a bathroom and then punishing them when he they soiled themselves.

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After Thomas spent 16 hours in the freezing garage, Valva allegedly took the boy out into the backyard, forced him out of his clothing and hosed him down with water from an outdoor spigot, according to Newsday.

Before 911 was called, video footage from inside the home allegedly showed Thomas unable to walk and falling face-first into the garage's concrete floor.

“He’s cold,” Valva allegedly said after watching video footage of the incident. “Boo f—king hoo.”

During a text exchange, Pollina allegedly asked Valva if Thomas should stay home from school the day he was taken to the hospital.

“I have zero clothing for him, f—k that piece of s—t, Thomas,” Valva allegedly responded. “He’s not going anywhere.”

A police handout of Angela Pollina

Valva’s defense attorney, Anthony La Pinta, said Wednesday that his client took Thomas in for a warm bath, which caused the child to go into cardiac arrest. La Pinta referred to the medical episode as a “biological reaction.”

Valva also allegedly failed to inform medical personnel of the source of Thomas' injury, after they arrived and he was performing CPR. He and Pollina claimed that Thomas lost consciousness after hitting his head, prompting professionals to treat Thomas for a head injury instead of hypothermia. The alleged omission could have helped doctors save Thomas’ life.

“This defendant, this father, consciously omitted information to the people who were trying to save his son’s life,” D.A. Newcombe told the jury.

A later review of the surveillance footage from the home revealed the boys were forced to wear training diapers, sleep on pads filled with dog urine and regularly denied food.

School officials described the children as being “unbearably thin” with urine “squishing their sneakers” when they went to school after Valva was awarded full custody of the boys, according to prosecutors. The brothers were often seen with cuts and bruises.

“They were observed at school literally eating crumbs off the floor,” Newcombe told the jury on Wednesday.

(An investigation continues into county social services after it was reported that teachers called a state abuse hotline about 20 times about the Valva brothers. County officials had also visited the home after requests for a welfare check but did not advocate to change the custody arrangements. Valva was awarded custody of his three sons in 2017 after a bitter divorce with his former wife, Justyna Zubko-Valva, who accused Valva of coaching her sons and threatening them with violence to lie about their mother during family court proceedings.)

During opening arguments, Valva's lawyer painted his client as a father under stress in the months leading up to Thomas’s death, caving under the pressures of this then-fiancée, Angela Pollina, according to Newsday.

According to his lawyer, Valva and the boys moved in with Pollina and her three daughters at her Bittersweet Lane home after the divorce. Pollina allegedly chastised Volva for being too lenient with his sons and, allegedly lacking the resources to get a place of his own following an expensive divorce and custom battle, Valva's lawyer claimed he felt trapped with Pollina.

“Eleven Bittersweet Lane was becoming more bitter by the day,” the defense attorney told the jury, allegedly it was Pollina — not his client — who forced the boys to sleep in the freezing-cold garage without a mattress or a blanket, items Valva allegedly provided for his children.

“You are making it too comfortable for them,” Pollina allegedly told Valva. “Let them be uncomfortable. That will teach them to control themselves.”

Valva's lawyer referred to Pollina as a “wicked cruel stepmother,” according to Fox New York affiliate WNYW. (Pollina, on the other hand, has claimed that Valva was the one with a temper who forced her to go along with the arrangements for his kids.)

D.A. Newcombe, on the other hand, pointed to Valva’s callousness, noting that, even after Thomas was rushed to the hospital, Valva allegedly told an employee that he’d “been through more stressful things than this.”

Newcombe asked jurors to be mindful of four numbers for the duration of the murder trial: 8, which was Thomas’ age; 16, for the hours Thomas spent in the garage; 19, for the temperature on the night of Thomas’ death; and 76.1, which was Thomas’ internal temperature after arriving at the hospital.

Nearly 40 witnesses are expected to testify in Valva's trial, including teachers and first responders, according to WNYW. If convicted, Valva faces 25 years to life in prison.

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