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Attorneys For Ex-NYPD Officer Valva Plan To Appeal After Sentencing

Patch 11/29/2022 Lisa Finn
Ex-NYPD Officer Michael Valva was found guilty on all counts in the murder of his son earlier in November. © Suffolk County District Attorney's Office Ex-NYPD Officer Michael Valva was found guilty on all counts in the murder of his son earlier in November.

RIVERHEAD, NY — Attorneys for Michael Valva — who was convicted earlier this month of second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child for the death of his 8-year-old son Thomas, who froze to death in his father's garage in 2020 — said they will file an appeal after sentencing.

Valva is set to be sentenced Dec. 8. While no sentencing report has yet been issued, John LoTurco, Valva's attorney, said he faces a minimum of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life.

"We will be filing a notice of appeal after sentencing," LoTurco said.

Valva, along with his then-fianceé Angela Pollina, who will have a separate trial, were arrested Jan. 24, 2020, and charged with second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Each faces 25 years to life in prison when sentenced.

Jury selection for Pollina's trial is slated for February.

Earlier this month, the courtroom was hushed as the jury filed in after just a day of deliberations in a trial that spanned close to two months. Jurors heard emotional testimony from teachers, administrators and others, who painted a picture of Thomas and his older brother, both with autism, living in a "house of horrors," according to Suffolk Assistant County District Attorney Keriann Kelly.

Both Valva and Pollina had pleaded not guilty.

"The jury has spoken," said Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, of the verdict in the Valva trial. "Obviously, we're gratified, and we thank them for their careful attention and their diligence in what could not have been an easy case. Although we are gratified by the result, this does not change our focus."

He added: "This case is not over here. This case will continue, and we will continue to seek justice. He will be held responsible for his actions. What happened in this courtroom does not change the unbelievable tragedy of this case, but thanks in large part to the great work of our DA's office and our police department working together, we can give Thomas and Anthony Valva a small, small measure of justice."

Defense attorney LoTurco also reflected after the verdict: "We're disappointed by the verdict, but it's not unexpected. We understand the emotional appeal of this case, and it was a very difficult case to try — exceptionally challenging for us and especially challenging for the jury. We understood why they could come back with such a verdict against Michael Valva."

LoTurco added: "We'll continue to fight on. Michael Valva, no matter what the verdict was, will be battling his demons for the rest of his life."

LoTurco added that when he and the team took on the case, no others would. They were appointed when Valva was unrepresented.

"In our country, every person needs an attorney, no matter how egregious and heinous the charges filed against them. That's why we took this case on," he said.

He said they faced a significant amount of evidence against Michael Valva.

When asked for Valva's reaction, LoTurco said he apologized for not coming through for him. "He actually said he understood," he said.

Defense attorney Anthony La Pinta also spoke. The process, he said, is about advocates stepping up and making the system work with checks and balances.

"We proudly stand here defending the rights of an accused Mr. Valva, and we are proudly going to leave with our heads up, working very hard to protect even his rights here. So those that condemn because of the facts of case, that's your issue, not ours," said La Pinta.

Minutes after deliberations started, the jury sent a note to the judge, asking for the definition of the charges again. Condon read the charges aloud.

To find him guilty on the second-degree murder charge, the judge said the jury must determine that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Valva showed a "depraved indifference to human life"including torture, and had a "wicked, inhumane state of mind," and was devoid of concern for the loss of life for another, putting a child under 11, through his conduct, at grave risk of physical injury or death.

The jury asked midday to see certain videos, photos, and texts again before rendering their decision.

Thomas and his brother were forced to sleep in the frigid garage as temperatures outside plummeted to 19 degrees, prosecutors said. When he died, Thomas' body temperature was 76.1 degrees, 20 degrees lower than it should have been.

Witnesses took the stand during the trial, painting an image of what Assistant District Attorney Keriann Kelly called a "house of horrors," where the two boys were sleeping on the cold floor with no blankets or pillows, and eating their meals in the garage alone while the rest of the family, including the dog, were gathered in the warmth upstairs.

Teachers recalled the boys coming to school in urine-soaked clothes, wearing pull-ups and cold, always cold, their hands and faces red and chapped. And, they said, the boys were starving, crying in hunger and searching the trash and floor for crumbs.

Defense attorneys, however, maintained that Pollina was the dominant person in the relationship, whose "trigger" was the boys' incontinence. They said Valva was under great stress, financial trouble, and had nowhere to go with his boys if he left the house where he lived with her.

During opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcomb told the jury that Thomas had an accident and soiled himself. Valva, she said, "began screaming, 'Stop pooping. I should make you eat this ---t.'"

Then Valva took Thomas outside into the cold and hosed him down with icy water from the spigot, she said. Thomas fell head-first onto the concrete.

"What did this father do?" she asked, pointing at Valva. "Did he try to help him? No. He began yelling, 'F--- you, moron, walk!'"

And later, he said of Thomas, "He's cold. Boo f------ hoo," Newcomb said.

Thomas died a few hours later of hypothermia, according to the Suffolk County Medical Office's determination.

Looking back to September 2017, when Valva and Pollina moved in to 11 Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches, with both Thomas and his brother autistic and finding it difficult to communicate, the boys were "punished if they didn't use their words," given no food, she said.

Also, although both boys had been toilet trained when they began living with Valva and Pollina in 2017, by 2018, they were back in pull-ups. Due to their accidents, they were forced to sleep on the floor, on pads meant for training dogs, Newcomb said.

And, she added, there are the texts. Newcomb read one that said the boys, if they refused to listen, would be put out in the snow.

Or another: "I will beat them until they bleed," Newcomb read. And, texted Valva: "When I get home I'm going to f------ handcuff him," Newcomb said.

Witnesses, including teachers at Thomas' school, have sobbed on the stand as they recounted seeing Thomas and his brother starving, cold, with bruises and scratches, and eating crumbs from the floor.

At closing arguments, defense attorney John LoTurco said despite the abuse, Valva loved his sons. "Michael did not want Thomas to die," he said. He also maintained that Valva, after Thomas fell on the concrete outside after being washed naked in the frigid water, was more concerned with a head injury and wasn't considering hypothermia.

Showing a photo of Thomas from June, 2019, taken at school with a bruise on his face, Kelly said: "Take a look at the expression on his face. It tells you everything you need to know. Look into his eyes. The child was living in a house of horrors."

Kelly has maintained that Valva lied, initially saying that Thomas tripped and fell while running for the bus when in fact, he fell repeatedly in the backyard after being washed, naked, in frigid water by Valva after he defecated on himself during the night.

Thomas' mother Justyna Zubko-Valva pleaded for help on her Twitter page before her son died. In 2020, Zubko-Valva filed a $200 million wrongful death suit.

Zubko-Valva has not responded to requests for comment.

In June, a judge ruled that portions of the $200 million lawsuit filed by Zubko-Valva after Thomas died can move forward, a judge ruled.

The article Attorneys For Ex-NYPD Officer Valva Plan To Appeal After Sentencing appeared first on Riverhead Patch.

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