Thomas and Anthony Valva’s teachers described the boys as always hungry, always cold and injured. NewsdayTV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; File Footage; Photo Credit: Justyna Zubko-Valva

Angela Pollina, on trial for murder in the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, “demanded” that his brother Anthony Valva remove a sweatshirt the boy's teacher let him wear in class during a time when prosecutors allege Pollina forced both boys to sleep on the bare concrete floor in a freezing garage at their home, the school principal testified Thursday.

“They’re used to being cold,” Pollina said in the hallway of East Moriches Elementary School in the fall of 2019, according to Principal Edward Schneyer, testifying at Pollina's trial in Riverhead. 

Pollina, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges in Thomas' Jan. 17, 2020 death, and the alleged abuse of Thomas and his older brother, Anthony.

Michael Valva, Pollina's fiance who lived with her in Center Moriches at the time of Thomas’ killing, was convicted last year of murder in Thomas' death and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in an upstate prison near the Canadian border.

Prosecutors have said the pair acted in concert — forcing the boys to sleep in an unheated garage in subfreezing temperatures and denying them food — and showed a depraved indifference to whether Thomas lived or died.

Pollina’s attorney, Matthew Tuohy, has argued it was Valva who killed his son by hosing him off with cold water from an outside spigot and then placing him in a warm bath. Prosecutors noted that Pollina correctly identified Thomas as “hypothermic” on the morning of his death, but did “nothing” to help the dying child.

One of Anthony’s teachers, Katelyn Edwards, also testified that when Anthony saw Pollina in the school hallway that day, he fled back to class.

“He was cowering in his seat, hunched over … rocking back and forth,” said Edwards, who cried while testifying. “He was shaking, looking at the door.”

Edwards said she consoled Anthony, who liked wearing the sweatshirt to keep warm, by rubbing his back.

“He wouldn’t move and he never put the sweatshirt on again,” Edwards said.

Several other teachers of both Thomas and Anthony testified Thursday, describing the students as “always hungry,” appearing “emaciated” and cold and coming to school with injuries including a bloodied nose, bruises and cuts.

One of Thomas’ teachers, Michelle Cagliano, said she once got a call from Pollina after giving Thomas a pear and crackers when he complained of being hungry.

“She was very, very upset with me, that he was [expletive] his pants all morning and she had to clean it up,” Cagliano said.

Jennifer Holborow, a third-grade teacher who also cried while testifying about watching Anthony, who she called a “math star,” eat crumbs left over from other students. He began refusing to get off the school bus in the mornings, Holborow said, because “he had struck a deal with Angela if he refused to get off the bus and he kicked and he screamed she would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.”

Lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly also showed the jury photographs that Schneyer took of Thomas in November 2019 with what Schneyer described as a “deep laceration” above his right eye and another cut on his left cheek.

“Honestly, I think they looked worse in person,” Schneyer said when Kelly asked if they were a fair and accurate depiction of how the injuries appeared when he photographed Thomas.

Schneyer said he and the boys’ teachers filed reports with Child Protective Services regarding those injuries and other instances of the boys complaining of being hungry and cold, and the children’s conditions would improve briefly, before the problems would re-occur. He and the teachers also decided to “flood” the local CPS hotline to try “shake it up” after the problems continued, including Anthony coming to school in urine-soaked clothing.

During cross-examinations, Tuohy attempted to distance his client from any parental role in caring for the boys. But the principal and teachers all said Pollina was regarded as the boys’ stepmother, attending parent-teacher conferences and other school events, and was always included on a 3-way call anytime they called Valva to discuss the boys.

When asked by Tuohy if Pollina was a “good mom” to her daughters, one of whom Edwards had taught, Edwards answered: “Buying things and getting her hair done doesn’t make her a good mother.”

After testimony wrapped Thursday, Pollina appeared agitated while speaking to Tuohy. “They had food!” she said to her attorney.

Angela Pollina, on trial for murder in the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, “demanded” that his brother Anthony Valva remove a sweatshirt the boy's teacher let him wear in class during a time when prosecutors allege Pollina forced both boys to sleep on the bare concrete floor in a freezing garage at their home, the school principal testified Thursday.

“They’re used to being cold,” Pollina said in the hallway of East Moriches Elementary School in the fall of 2019, according to Principal Edward Schneyer, testifying at Pollina's trial in Riverhead. 

Pollina, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges in Thomas' Jan. 17, 2020 death, and the alleged abuse of Thomas and his older brother, Anthony.

Michael Valva, Pollina's fiance who lived with her in Center Moriches at the time of Thomas’ killing, was convicted last year of murder in Thomas' death and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in an upstate prison near the Canadian border.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Angela Pollina said Thomas and Anthony Valva were "used to being cold," the principal of the East Moriches Elementary School testified Pollina once told school officials.
  • Several teachers of both Thomas and Anthony also testified at Pollina's murder trial Thursday, describing the boys as “always hungry” appearing “emaciated” and cold and coming to school with injuries.
  • The boys’ teachers filed reports with Child Protective Services regarding and the teachers also decided to “flood” the local CPS hotline to try “shake it up” after the problems continued, a witness told the jury.

Prosecutors have said the pair acted in concert — forcing the boys to sleep in an unheated garage in subfreezing temperatures and denying them food — and showed a depraved indifference to whether Thomas lived or died.

Pollina’s attorney, Matthew Tuohy, has argued it was Valva who killed his son by hosing him off with cold water from an outside spigot and then placing him in a warm bath. Prosecutors noted that Pollina correctly identified Thomas as “hypothermic” on the morning of his death, but did “nothing” to help the dying child.

One of Anthony’s teachers, Katelyn Edwards, also testified that when Anthony saw Pollina in the school hallway that day, he fled back to class.

“He was cowering in his seat, hunched over … rocking back and forth,” said Edwards, who cried while testifying. “He was shaking, looking at the door.”

Edwards said she consoled Anthony, who liked wearing the sweatshirt to keep warm, by rubbing his back.

“He wouldn’t move and he never put the sweatshirt on again,” Edwards said.

Several other teachers of both Thomas and Anthony testified Thursday, describing the students as “always hungry,” appearing “emaciated” and cold and coming to school with injuries including a bloodied nose, bruises and cuts.

Thomas Valva, who died of hypothermia on Jan. 17, 2020,...

Thomas Valva, who died of hypothermia on Jan. 17, 2020, appears in an undated photograph. Credit: Courtesy Justyna Zubko-Valva

One of Thomas’ teachers, Michelle Cagliano, said she once got a call from Pollina after giving Thomas a pear and crackers when he complained of being hungry.

“She was very, very upset with me, that he was [expletive] his pants all morning and she had to clean it up,” Cagliano said.

Jennifer Holborow, a third-grade teacher who also cried while testifying about watching Anthony, who she called a “math star,” eat crumbs left over from other students. He began refusing to get off the school bus in the mornings, Holborow said, because “he had struck a deal with Angela if he refused to get off the bus and he kicked and he screamed she would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.”

Lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly also showed the jury photographs that Schneyer took of Thomas in November 2019 with what Schneyer described as a “deep laceration” above his right eye and another cut on his left cheek.

“Honestly, I think they looked worse in person,” Schneyer said when Kelly asked if they were a fair and accurate depiction of how the injuries appeared when he photographed Thomas.

Schneyer said he and the boys’ teachers filed reports with Child Protective Services regarding those injuries and other instances of the boys complaining of being hungry and cold, and the children’s conditions would improve briefly, before the problems would re-occur. He and the teachers also decided to “flood” the local CPS hotline to try “shake it up” after the problems continued, including Anthony coming to school in urine-soaked clothing.

During cross-examinations, Tuohy attempted to distance his client from any parental role in caring for the boys. But the principal and teachers all said Pollina was regarded as the boys’ stepmother, attending parent-teacher conferences and other school events, and was always included on a 3-way call anytime they called Valva to discuss the boys.

When asked by Tuohy if Pollina was a “good mom” to her daughters, one of whom Edwards had taught, Edwards answered: “Buying things and getting her hair done doesn’t make her a good mother.”

After testimony wrapped Thursday, Pollina appeared agitated while speaking to Tuohy. “They had food!” she said to her attorney.

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME