Angela Pollina was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life in prison for the murder of 8-year-old Thomas Valva. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd has the story. Credit: Newsday/Drew Singh

A Suffolk County judge sentenced Angela Pollina to 25 years to life in prison for murdering 8-year-old Thomas Valva, telling the former medical biller that his “only regret” in handing down the maximum sentence is she won’t spend the rest of her life in a freezing garage.

Thomas froze to death on Jan. 17, 2020, after Pollina and Michael Valva, 44, the boys’ father and her fiance at the time, forced him and his brother, Anthony, who was 10 at the time, to spend the night in the unheated garage in their Center Moriches home when it was 19 degrees outside.

There were no mattresses, no beds, no pillows or blankets in the garage where Thomas slept for the last time.

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit the prison where you will be sent; it’s where all females in the state of New York go,” Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei told Pollina, referring to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. “My only regret, Miss Pollina, is they don’t have a garage there, with no heat, and no mattress, and no blankets and no pillows … nothing that belongs in a bedroom, somewhere you can sleep the rest of your life, because that’s where you deserve to be for the rest of your natural life.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Angela Pollina, the Center Moriches woman convicted of second-degree murder in the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, was sentenced to the maximum 25 years to life in prison by a Suffolk judge on Tuesday.
  • A Suffolk jury on March 10 found Pollina guilty of second-degree murder as well as of four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the abuse of Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, for forcing the boys to sleep in a freezing garage and starving and beating them.
  • Pollina, 45, will serve her sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, a maximum-security prison that houses women.

Mazzei delivered the comments before he sentenced a seemingly unemotional Pollina, who declined her chance to speak publicly, in a courtroom packed with onlookers. Some of the jurors who convicted Pollina were among those inside the Riverhead courtroom as Pollina was sentenced, as well as Thomas’ and Anthony’s schoolteachers. Soft crying could be heard from the crowd during the proceeding and several people clapped when the judge announced the sentence.

A Suffolk jury on March 10 found Pollina, 45, guilty of second-degree murder as well as four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the abuse of Thomas and Anthony, for forcing the boys to sleep in a freezing garage and starving and beating them. Both boys were on the autism spectrum. The boys’ father, an ex-NYPD officer, was convicted last year during a separate trial on the same charges. He was also sentenced to the maximum penalty.

“Like most people in this county, I was aware of this case from the trial of that spineless, poor excuse of a man, ex-fiance of yours,” Mazzei said Tuesday, referring to Valva. “But it wasn’t until I heard and saw what you said and did, in this trial, that I think we all realized how evil you really are, and really were. And evil’s not the word that I came up with, that’s that word that you came up with to describe yourself, to describe the treatment of what you did to those poor little innocent boys. You tortured those boys. You tortured them.”

Mazzei also sentenced Pollina to one year each for the child endangerment charges, which will be served concurrent to the murder sentence. Pollina's defense attorney, Matthew Tuohy, said Pollina is filing a notice of appeal.

“Never once, have you ever showed any sorrow or compassion for what happened to those little boys,” Mazzei told Pollina.

Tuohy asked the judge for clemency, saying his client "had lived a good life" and had committed no crimes before meeting Valva. Tuohy requested the judge sentence his client to the minimum of 15 years to life, arguing, as he had during the trial, it was Valva who killed his son. He insisted also his client had been a good mother to her three daughters.

“Obviously she has tremendous remorse for what happened to Thomas and Anthony,” said Tuohy, who said Pollina had asked him to express that sentiment to the court.

In the days leading up to her sentencing, Tuohy said his client was "upset" and "bewildered" at her conviction, saying she maintains her innocence.

A photograph of 8-year-old Thomas Valva the day before he died on...

A photograph of 8-year-old Thomas Valva the day before he died on Jan. 17, 2020. Credit: Suffolk District Attorney

But lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly, who became emotional at one point, argued for the maximum, pointing out that Pollina didn’t show remorse in her interview with probation officials.

“In my own humble opinion, Thomas was a profile of courage,” said Kelly, who then paused to compose herself. “He stared down the faces of evil he endured each day, the faces of his own father, and this defendant, who was a mother figure in his life for the two years prior to his death.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, speaking alongside some of the boys’ teachers after the sentencing, confirmed that a grand jury is investigating the case with an eye toward potential reforms.

“I’m going to let that grand jury run its course and when it’s done … we’re going to make recommendations from those findings. We’re not going to rush it.”

Newsday reported Tuesday that a series of promised investigations into the child welfare system and court system in the wake of Thomas’ death were either stalled or the findings are being withheld from the public.

Kelly, who said it’s been “a very long three years” in her pursuit of justice for Thomas, said she and her fellow prosecutors Laura Newcombe and James Scahill, all parents, were deeply pained by what happened to Thomas and Anthony.

“I can’t go in my garage now without picturing those two little boys,” Kelly said.

Tierney called Pollina’s sentence “justly deserved” and said the surveillance video from inside the house, some of which Pollina deleted, evidence showed, was “critical” to prosecutors’ success in convicting both Pollina and Valva.

"Without that Nest camera, nobody would have believed what went on in that house," Tierney said. 

The fathers of Pollina’s three daughters attended the sentencing and tearfully spoke to reporters afterward.

“It won’t bring Thomas back; none of it makes sense,” said Gino Cali, the father of Pollina’s youngest daughter.

The father of Pollina’s twin daughters, Michael Ichkhan, said: “I’ve been waiting for this for three years.”

Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, one of the jurors who convicted Pollina called her the “mastermind” and said it was “strikingly cold” that she refused an opportunity to apologize in court.

“It’s absolutely brutal what happened in this case,” said Nicholas Pisano. “It’s actually sickening that there are people like that on this Earth. … It’s disgusting.”

Kelly, speaking in court, outlined Pollina’s conduct in grim detail.

Evidence presented at both trials, including text messages between the pair, depicted Pollina as the driving force behind the punishment. Jurors at both trials found that Pollina and Valva "acted in concert" to cause Thomas' death.

Pollina admitted her conduct when she testified at her trial. "Yes, I was wrong; Yes, I was evil," Pollina said on the witness stand. "I'm not justifying it. I'm not saying it was right. It was evil. … I put them in the garage. Yes, I did."

In court Tuesday, Tuohy attempted to explain his client’s statement: “I think what she wanted to say is she’s not an evil person, but the acts of putting the boys in the garage became evil acts …. She’s not a lawyer; she did the best she could.”

The Franklin Square native attempted to emphasize Valva's role in physically putting Thomas in the garage the night before he died. Valva took Thomas outside that morning, according to trial evidence, spraying the naked boy with cold water from a spigot, plunging his small body into late-stage hypothermia.

“She ruled that household that day just like she did every day, with an iron fist and a tyrannical and admittedly evil, cruel fashion,” Kelly said before Pollina was sentenced.

Angela Pollina in court in Riverhead on Tuesday.

Angela Pollina in court in Riverhead on Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

When Thomas was pronounced dead at the hospital that morning, his body temperature was 76.1 degrees.

The boys initially shared a bedroom on the second floor of the spacious Center Moriches home after Valva, embroiled in a contentious divorce with the boys' mother, gained custody of his three sons.

But text messages and trial testimony showed Pollina locked the boys in their room while their father worked long shifts as an NYPD transit officer in Brooklyn, denying them access to the bathroom in their own home.

Soon after, Thomas and Anthony were forced to sleep on the backyard patio. Brought inside the garage, which was not insulated, the boys were initially given a crib mattress on which to sleep. But as text messages at the trials revealed, Pollina thought the boys were too comfortable and demanded Valva follow her "methods” to punish them more severely, trial testimony showed. The boys were then forced to sleep on the concrete floor of the garage without any blankets or pillows.

In video from a home surveillance system that Pollina controlled that was displayed during the trials, they shivered in freezing temperatures. Pollina often sent video clips of the boys in the garage to Valva via text message while he worked overnight shifts, complaining of the boys’ behavior and urging Valva to take action, trial evidence showed.

At times, Valva told Pollina he wanted his sons back in the house, but Pollina refused, telling Valva to move out if he disapproved of the arrangement. Valva felt he couldn't leave, his attorneys have said, because he was facing financial issues due to the pending divorce and custody fight. 

A picture of Thomas Valva at St. John the Evangelist...

A picture of Thomas Valva at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches on Jan. 27, 2020. Credit: James Carbone

Thomas and Anthony appeared starving during most of their time at East Moriches Elementary School, their schoolteachers testified. They frequently arrived at school saying they were hungry. The boys ate crumbs off the floor and stole food from other children, the teachers testified. Thomas told a teacher that he wasn't given breakfast because he didn't "use my words" or call Pollina "mommy." 

The boys also came to school with bruises, cuts and other injuries, the teachers said. They complained of being cold and had red hands and cheeks. 

The teachers and school officials called Child Protective Services many times, including a group effort to “flood” a CPS reporting line, but the boys remained living with Valva and Pollina, testimony at the trial showed.

Prosecutors also displayed video and audio evidence from the home surveillance system that allowed jurors to hear most of what led up to Thomas' death.

When one of her daughters asked why Thomas couldn't walk, according to audio captured on the surveillance system from that morning, Pollina replied: "Because he's hypothermic." 

Pollina had testified that when Valva summoned her to the garage, Thomas was awake and talking and that she sat on the floor and held the boy and comforted him — a narrative that prosecutors rejected as false.

“She tried to manipulate that jury into believing that she held Thomas that morning and wiped away his tears,” Kelly said in court Tuesday. “Your honor, you sat through the trial. That was belied by the evidence in this case." She repeatedly referred to the boys as "dirty, stinky, filthy and disgusting."

Tuohy argued that Pollina tried to save Thomas' life by getting blankets and a heater that morning.

But prosecutors said Pollina and Valva already knew Thomas was dead and embarked on a cover-up to explain to police and other authorities what happened to him.

Both Valva and Pollina lied, according to evidence, and told police that Thomas fell on the driveway running for the school bus that morning, which caused him to suffer head injuries. 

The evidence showed Thomas' head injuries were a result of him falling multiple times as he struggled against the effects of late-stage hypothermia.

Video surveillance jurors saw at the trial from a neighbor's home showed Thomas never made it to the bus stop that morning. 

Lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly speaks during a news conference at Suffolk...

Lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly speaks during a news conference at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead after Angela Pollina's sentencing Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

“Fortunately for her, your honor, unlike Thomas’ prison cell, hers will come with access to a bathroom and a shower,” Kelly told the judge. “She’s guaranteed to have three meals a day. She won’t have to use words to get them. And she will not have to eat them in her cell. And she won’t have to eat crumbs off the floor. She’ll have a mattress and a blanket and a pillow, all the comforts she denied Thomas and Anthony. She’ll be able to leave her cell for recreation, to go to the library. Ironically, prison life will be better than the hell she subjected 8-year-old Thomas and 10-year-old Anthony to.”

Timeline of the case

A look back on key dates leading to the conviction of Angela Pollina in the death of his 8-year-old Thomas Valva.

2004: NYPD Officer Michael Valva weds Justyna Zubko-Valva, a Polish national who came to the United States on a student visa in 2002.

2009: Zubko-Valva gives birth to the couple's first child, Anthony.

Sept. 14, 2011: Thomas Valva is born. He and his brother Anthony would later be diagnosed with autism.

May 2013: A third son, Andrew, is born.

Late 2014: Michael Valva moves out of the family's Valley Stream condominium. Zubko-Valva accuses him in court papers of abandoning her and the children. She claims Valva is having an affair with Angela Pollina, a hospital administrator and the mother of three daughters.

Valva and Zubko-Valva begin divorce proceedings in 2015.

July 2016: Zubko-Valva tells Child Protective Services that Valva abuses the boys, according to court transcripts. She tells Nassau County Judge Francis Ricigliano during a hearing that her sons come home hungry and thirsty after visits with their father. She claims Valva didn't get medical attention for Andrew when the boy had a 102-degree fever.

September 2018: Nassau County Judge Hope Zimmerman awards temporary custody of the boys to Valva. The judge says Zubko-Valva can have unsupervised visits with her children every other weekend.

Fall 2017: Staff at East Moriches Elementary School, where Anthony and Thomas were enrolled, express concerns about abuse, with one teacher writing in a memo that the boys are not getting enough to eat, court papers show. Anthony loses 11 pounds in nine months, she writes, while Thomas gains just one pound in the preceding 20 months.

January 2018: Thomas tells a social worker, according to CPS, that his mother left a mark under his eye. Andrew also says his mother hurts him and he is afraid of her. Thomas denies the allegation that his father punishes the kids by putting them out in the cold.

April 2018: Valva completes a parenting skills program. School psychologist Renee Emin writes a note that says Valva and Pollina do not understand the depth of Thomas' and Anthony's disabilities. She also notes the boys are afraid to go to the nurse's office because Valva and Pollina tell them not to go there.

Fall 2018: School psychologist Emin tells CPS that Valva doesn't understand the boys' needs. The school also expresses concerns about Anthony's weight loss and says the boys pick up food from the floor and constantly ask for snacks.

February 2018: A report to CPS states that Anthony has come to school for at least a week with urine-soaked clothes and backpack, and that Valva and Pollina are not addressing the issue.

March 2019: Report to CPS says Valva and Pollina told Anthony to act out in school and on the bus so that he will be transferred to another school. The anonymous report said the boys are losing weight and the father punishes Anthony by putting him in the garage for long periods.

May 2019: Report to CPS says Valva threw a book bag at Thomas, leaving the boy with a bruise and bump on his forehead. A few days later, CPS says Anthony threw the bag and no safety risks were found.

July 2019: During divorce proceedings before Nassau County Judge Joseph Lorintz, Zubko-Valva says she has not seen her children in 18 months and the boys are being abused in the home of her ex-husband. She said Anthony sleeps in the garage and is not being fed.

Jan. 17, 2020: Suffolk police officers respond to the Valva home on Bittersweet Lane in Center Moriches at 9:40 a.m. after receiving a 911 call reporting that Thomas has fallen in the driveway. Thomas is transported to Long Island Community Hospital, where he is pronounced dead. An investigation by Suffolk police homicide detectives revealed that Thomas and Anthony had been forced to sleep without blankets, mattresses or pillows in the garage on the night of Jan. 16, when the temperature outside had dipped to 19 degrees. The Suffolk County medical examiner determines Thomas' cause of death to be hypothermia.

Jan. 24, 2020: Valva and Pollina are arrested by Suffolk police.

Feb. 6, 2020: An indictment charges Valva and Pollina each with second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Both plead not guilty at their arraignment.

October 2020: Valva resigns from the NYPD.

Sept. 7, 2022 Jury selection begins in Michael Valva's second-degree murder trial. Pollina's trial is scheduled to begin in 2023 after judge severs the two cases.

Nov. 4: Michael Valva is convicted of second-degree murder and of four counts of endangering the welfare of a child for starving and beating Thomas and his older brother Anthony, then 10 years old.

Dec. 8: Michael Valva is sentenced to a maximum of 25 years to life in prison for Thomas' murder.

Feb. 27, 2023: Jurors hear opening statements in Angela Pollina's trial, who is charged with second-degree murder in Thomas' killing and abuse of Thomas and Anthony.

March 10: A Suffolk jury finds Angela Pollina guilty of second-degree murder as well as of four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the abuse of Thomas and Anthony, for forcing the boys to sleep in a freezing garage and starving and beating them.

April 11: A Suffolk judge sentences Angela Pollina to the maximum 25 years to life in prison for murdering Thomas and abusing him and Anthony.   She will serve her sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County.

Stabbing at HS graduation … State parks free admission … What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Updated 56 minutes ago Heat advisory ... Stabbing at HS graduation ... Man accused of explicit chats with girls ... Spring All-LI teams

Stabbing at HS graduation … State parks free admission … What's up on LI Credit: Newsday

Updated 56 minutes ago Heat advisory ... Stabbing at HS graduation ... Man accused of explicit chats with girls ... Spring All-LI teams

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME