Jury selection began Wednesday for the trial of Angela Pollina, the Center Moriches woman charged in the murder of 8-year-old Thomas Valva,. Dozens of prospective jurors were excused from after acknowledging they had formed opinions about the case. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Drew Singh; Photo credit: Justyna Zubko-Valva

Hundreds of prospective jurors for the trial of Angela Pollina, the Center Moriches woman charged in the murder of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, were excused from potentially serving on the jury Wednesday after acknowledging they had formed opinions about the case and couldn’t fairly consider the evidence.

Pollina, seated beside her attorney with her back to the gallery inside a fourth-floor Riverhead courtroom, occasionally glanced over her shoulder to look at the prospective jurors on the first day of the jury selection process. During breaks, the mother of three daughters who wore her hair pulled back in two braids and an Army-green colored blouse and black pants, chatted animatedly with her attorney. At one point, she wiped tears from her face.

“It’s just emotional for her,” said Pollina’s attorney, Matthew Tuohy, after court ended for the day. “She was taken aback by it, but we expected that. Just the overall being here and it starting is emotional for her. I think she expected it, but it obviously impacted her, sure. When you hear a bunch of people say they can’t even be open minded and they can’t hear the evidence, that’s disheartening for anybody, right? And it’s against our system.”

Pollina, 45, is charged with second-degree murder in Thomas’ death and with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the alleged abuse of both Thomas and his older brother, Anthony. Pollina, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, has been held without bail since her arrest about a week after Thomas’ Jan. 17, 2020, death.

Prosecutors have alleged that Pollina and her then-fiance Michael Valva, a former NYPD officer and Thomas’ father, killed Thomas when they forced him to sleep in an unheated garage in subfreezing temperatures as punishment for bathroom accidents. Thomas died of hypothermia, a medical examiner has said. His body temperature was 76.1 degrees minutes before he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Michael Valva was convicted last year of killing Thomas. He was sentenced to the maximum of up to 25 years to life in prison and is currently being held at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, just south of the Canadian border.

At Michael Valva’s trial, prosecutors introduced a series of video clips from the home surveillance system inside of the Valva-Pollina home that showed Thomas and Anthony sleeping on the bare concrete floor of the garage and audio that illustrated the events of the morning Thomas died — evidence also expected to be presented during Pollina’s trial.

The Valva jury also heard testimony from Thomas’ and Anthony’s schoolteachers at East Moriches Elementary School indicating that the boys appeared “emaciated” and frequently came to school complaining of hunger and being cold.

Tuohy has said he plans to emphasize to the jury that his client didn’t take any action to cause Thomas’ death that morning, and point out that it was Valva who took Thomas outside and doused him with water from a spigot and then brought him inside into a warm bath, actions that experts have previously asserted caused Thomas’ death.

Tuohy said he expects Pollina’s parents and sister to attend portions of the trial.

“They want to support her,” said Tuohy.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei on Wednesday questioned more than 475 prospective jurors on the first day of jury selection and was left with 86 possible jurors. In addition to those who said they couldn’t be fair and impartial, others had myriad reasons why they said they couldn’t serve, including financial hardships and medical issues. Mazzei said he didn’t expect the trial to go past March 24.

Those remaining were instructed to return to the courthouse Thursday to continue the jury selection process, which will include voir dire, during which the prosecutors and defense attorney will ask questions of individual jurors. The judge also ordered another panel of 120 prospective jurors to the courthouse Thursday.

Mazzei struck an indignant tone with two attorneys who tried to get out of jury duty. One man, a personal injury attorney, said he was supposed to be picking a jury in a civil case in the courthouse “across the river,” which appeared to anger the judge, who questioned how the attorney would respond if prospective jurors in his case had similar excuses on why they couldn’t serve.

“Have a seat,” Mazzei barked at the attorney, who remained part of the jury pool.

Mazzei appeared incredulous when one woman, who described herself as a single mother who works six days a week, said she had plane tickets for a vacation in New Jersey that would conflict with the trial schedule.

“You’re flying to New Jersey?” the judge asked and then added: “You’re vacationing in New Jersey?”

Mazzei dismissed the woman, who appeared annoyed at the judge’s questioning of her vacation location.

A young man who said he was planning to propose to his girlfriend during an upcoming cruise vacation was also dismissed, with the judge wishing him good luck.

But he wasn’t as accommodating to a mapmaker at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“Does the laboratory shut down if you’re not there?” Mazzei asked.

When the woman replied that it doesn’t, Mazzei told her she’d have to remain part of the jury pool.

“I’m sure I’m going to be the most hated person on the grounds of the laboratory, but have a seat,” Mazzei said.

Before the selection process kicked off, the judge also granted the prosecution’s motion to prohibit Pollina’s defense attorney from telling the jury that Valva was convicted of Thomas’ murder.

“You will not mention or argue in any way that her prior co-defendant was convicted,” Mazzei instructed.

Tuohy agreed.

Hundreds of prospective jurors for the trial of Angela Pollina, the Center Moriches woman charged in the murder of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, were excused from potentially serving on the jury Wednesday after acknowledging they had formed opinions about the case and couldn’t fairly consider the evidence.

Pollina, seated beside her attorney with her back to the gallery inside a fourth-floor Riverhead courtroom, occasionally glanced over her shoulder to look at the prospective jurors on the first day of the jury selection process. During breaks, the mother of three daughters who wore her hair pulled back in two braids and an Army-green colored blouse and black pants, chatted animatedly with her attorney. At one point, she wiped tears from her face.

“It’s just emotional for her,” said Pollina’s attorney, Matthew Tuohy, after court ended for the day. “She was taken aback by it, but we expected that. Just the overall being here and it starting is emotional for her. I think she expected it, but it obviously impacted her, sure. When you hear a bunch of people say they can’t even be open minded and they can’t hear the evidence, that’s disheartening for anybody, right? And it’s against our system.”

An undated photograph of Thomas Valva.

An undated photograph of Thomas Valva. Credit: /Courtesy Justyna Zubko-Valva

Pollina, 45, is charged with second-degree murder in Thomas’ death and with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the alleged abuse of both Thomas and his older brother, Anthony. Pollina, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, has been held without bail since her arrest about a week after Thomas’ Jan. 17, 2020, death.

WHAT TO KNOW 

  • Hundreds of prospective jurors for the trial of Angela Pollina, the Center Moriches woman charged in the murder of 8-year-old Thomas Valva, were excused from potentially serving on the jury Wednesday.
  • The prospective jurors who were dismissed told the judge presiding over the trial, which is expected to last about a month, they had formed opinions about the case and couldn’t fairly consider the evidence.
  • Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei on Wednesday questioned more than 475 prospective jurors on the first day of jury selection and was left with 86 possible jurors. Jury selection continues in Riverhead on Thursday.

Prosecutors have alleged that Pollina and her then-fiance Michael Valva, a former NYPD officer and Thomas’ father, killed Thomas when they forced him to sleep in an unheated garage in subfreezing temperatures as punishment for bathroom accidents. Thomas died of hypothermia, a medical examiner has said. His body temperature was 76.1 degrees minutes before he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Michael Valva was convicted last year of killing Thomas. He was sentenced to the maximum of up to 25 years to life in prison and is currently being held at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, just south of the Canadian border.

Suffolk prosecutor Kerriann Kelly, center, arrives at the Cromarty Criminal...

Suffolk prosecutor Kerriann Kelly, center, arrives at the Cromarty Criminal Court Complex in Riverhead for jury selection in the murder trial of Angela Pollina on Wednesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

At Michael Valva’s trial, prosecutors introduced a series of video clips from the home surveillance system inside of the Valva-Pollina home that showed Thomas and Anthony sleeping on the bare concrete floor of the garage and audio that illustrated the events of the morning Thomas died — evidence also expected to be presented during Pollina’s trial.

The Valva jury also heard testimony from Thomas’ and Anthony’s schoolteachers at East Moriches Elementary School indicating that the boys appeared “emaciated” and frequently came to school complaining of hunger and being cold.

Tuohy has said he plans to emphasize to the jury that his client didn’t take any action to cause Thomas’ death that morning, and point out that it was Valva who took Thomas outside and doused him with water from a spigot and then brought him inside into a warm bath, actions that experts have previously asserted caused Thomas’ death.

Tuohy said he expects Pollina’s parents and sister to attend portions of the trial.

“They want to support her,” said Tuohy.

Matthew Tuohy, attorney for Angela Pollina, talks to reporters outside...

Matthew Tuohy, attorney for Angela Pollina, talks to reporters outside the Cromarty Criminal Court Complex in Riverhead on Wednesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Mazzei on Wednesday questioned more than 475 prospective jurors on the first day of jury selection and was left with 86 possible jurors. In addition to those who said they couldn’t be fair and impartial, others had myriad reasons why they said they couldn’t serve, including financial hardships and medical issues. Mazzei said he didn’t expect the trial to go past March 24.

Those remaining were instructed to return to the courthouse Thursday to continue the jury selection process, which will include voir dire, during which the prosecutors and defense attorney will ask questions of individual jurors. The judge also ordered another panel of 120 prospective jurors to the courthouse Thursday.

Mazzei struck an indignant tone with two attorneys who tried to get out of jury duty. One man, a personal injury attorney, said he was supposed to be picking a jury in a civil case in the courthouse “across the river,” which appeared to anger the judge, who questioned how the attorney would respond if prospective jurors in his case had similar excuses on why they couldn’t serve.

“Have a seat,” Mazzei barked at the attorney, who remained part of the jury pool.

Mazzei appeared incredulous when one woman, who described herself as a single mother who works six days a week, said she had plane tickets for a vacation in New Jersey that would conflict with the trial schedule.

“You’re flying to New Jersey?” the judge asked and then added: “You’re vacationing in New Jersey?”

Mazzei dismissed the woman, who appeared annoyed at the judge’s questioning of her vacation location.

A young man who said he was planning to propose to his girlfriend during an upcoming cruise vacation was also dismissed, with the judge wishing him good luck.

But he wasn’t as accommodating to a mapmaker at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“Does the laboratory shut down if you’re not there?” Mazzei asked.

When the woman replied that it doesn’t, Mazzei told her she’d have to remain part of the jury pool.

“I’m sure I’m going to be the most hated person on the grounds of the laboratory, but have a seat,” Mazzei said.

Before the selection process kicked off, the judge also granted the prosecution’s motion to prohibit Pollina’s defense attorney from telling the jury that Valva was convicted of Thomas’ murder.

“You will not mention or argue in any way that her prior co-defendant was convicted,” Mazzei instructed.

Tuohy agreed.

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