Thomas Valva's teachers broke down on the stand Monday in the trial of Michael Valva. One of the teachers described Thomas in January of 2020 as "very pale" and "very sick" and on the day before he died he appeared to be "shuffling along." NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; File Footage: Photo Credit: Justyna Zubko-Valva

Two of Thomas Valva’s teachers broke down on the witness stand Monday, sobbing as they described how the 8-year-old boy looked emaciated and frail and was constantly complaining about hunger in the months and days before he died.

East Moriches Elementary School third grade teacher Kelli Wilson said Thomas’ face and hands were red when she photographed the boy wearing a “Touchdown King” T-shirt for a class scrapbook on Jan. 16, 2020 — the day before prosecutors said he died after spending a frigid night in the unheated garage of his Center Moriches home. 

“He looked very frail,” Wilson testified Monday afternoon at the murder trial of Michael Valva, the boy's father who is on trial in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead. “He looked like someone who was very sick.” 

Thomas’ second grade teacher, meanwhile, told the jury earlier in the day that Thomas came to school wearing urine-soaked clothes and frequently complained about hunger throughout much of the 2018-19 school year. 

Michelle Cagliano broke down crying on the witness stand and had to take a break from testifying when prosecutor Kerriann Kelly asked the teacher about an encounter with Thomas on Jan. 18, 2019 — the day after classes returned to school after it was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. 

"He told me he didn't eat any food all day Monday," said Cagliano, adding that, "he told me his heart was pounding." 

Throughout her testimony, Cagliano repeatedly said "he was always hungry" about Thomas, who she said frequently told her he didn't have breakfast and immediately inquired about when he could eat as soon as he arrived to school in the morning. 

Thomas also ate the discarded food of his classmates from the trash, including Chex Mix and veggie straws, she told jurors.

Cagliano cried as she described Thomas’ unhealthy weight loss and bony frame. She decided to keep a journal to document how often Thomas asked for food, she testified, and when she saw him eating crumbs off the floor.

She said she was relieved when Thomas was absent for two days in May 2019 after she told Child Protective Services that the boy had come to school with a bruise on his forehead. Thomas told her that he received the bruise after his father threw his backpack — containing a plant from a school sale — at him, Cagliano said. 

“Thank God CPS took him,” Cagliano said she thought at the time. “Thank God CPS finally did something.”

Prosecutors have said that Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, suffered through years of alleged abuse and neglect at the hands of Valva before Thomas died from hypothermia after being forced to sleep in the unheated garage on Bittersweet Lane without blankets or mattresses. Prosecutors have said the boys — both on the autism spectrum but high functioning— struggled with incontinence, which infuriated Valva and his ex-fiancee, Angela Pollina. 

Valva and Pollina have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges. Pollina will be tried at a later date. Valva’s defense attorneys have attempted to place the blame on Pollina, whom they have described as a domineering woman. 

Valva, overwhelmed financially and emotionally by a lengthy custody battle with the boys’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, was forced to stay in Pollina’s good graces because he had nowhere else to go, according to his lawyers.

Both teachers described Thomas as a smart, sweet boy who got along with his classmates and was a stickler for following classroom rules. They both testified that Valva described his son during meetings with them as a bad boy who lied and tried to manipulate others — and then launched into complaints about Zubko-Valva, the boys’ mother. 

Wilson said she and principal Edward Schneyer called Child Protective Services after the boys came into school with bruises in November 2019. Valva threatened to file a lawsuit against the educators, she said. 

Thomas looked unhealthy when he returned to school after the holiday break in January 2020, Wilson testified. His hands and face were bright red, she said, and walked with a limp. “He was shuffling,” she said. 

Wilson broke down in tears when Kelly asked her about Thomas’ absence from school on Jan. 17, 2020, the day the boy died.

“There is something going on in that house,” she said Schneyer told her that day. 

Earlier in the trial Monday, Christine MacQuarrie, an educational consultant who works with autistic students in East Moriches schools, said she met with Valva at his home on March 12, 2019, for a “parent training” to deal with Anthony’s incontinence issues and his refusal to leave the school bus.

“Mr. Valva spoke a lot about Anthony’s mother and his thoughts and opinions on her,” said MacQuarrie, referring to Justyna Zubko-Valva. She added: “It was all negative.”

MacQuarrie said Valva told her he was an NYPD transit officer and compared the smell of the city’s subways to Anthony’s bedroom.

MacQuarrie said she left the home feeling “positive” and that she would be able to assist the family, but a few days later Valva sent an email “that he would not be requiring my services.” 

Testimony in the trial continues on Tuesday.

Two of Thomas Valva’s teachers broke down on the witness stand Monday, sobbing as they described how the 8-year-old boy looked emaciated and frail and was constantly complaining about hunger in the months and days before he died.

East Moriches Elementary School third grade teacher Kelli Wilson said Thomas’ face and hands were red when she photographed the boy wearing a “Touchdown King” T-shirt for a class scrapbook on Jan. 16, 2020 — the day before prosecutors said he died after spending a frigid night in the unheated garage of his Center Moriches home. 

Undated photograph of Thomas Valva.

Undated photograph of Thomas Valva. Credit: Courtesy Justyna Zubko-Valva

“He looked very frail,” Wilson testified Monday afternoon at the murder trial of Michael Valva, the boy's father who is on trial in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead. “He looked like someone who was very sick.” 

Thomas’ second grade teacher, meanwhile, told the jury earlier in the day that Thomas came to school wearing urine-soaked clothes and frequently complained about hunger throughout much of the 2018-19 school year. 

Michelle Cagliano broke down crying on the witness stand and had to take a break from testifying when prosecutor Kerriann Kelly asked the teacher about an encounter with Thomas on Jan. 18, 2019 — the day after classes returned to school after it was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. 

"He told me he didn't eat any food all day Monday," said Cagliano, adding that, "he told me his heart was pounding." 

Throughout her testimony, Cagliano repeatedly said "he was always hungry" about Thomas, who she said frequently told her he didn't have breakfast and immediately inquired about when he could eat as soon as he arrived to school in the morning. 

Thomas also ate the discarded food of his classmates from the trash, including Chex Mix and veggie straws, she told jurors.

Cagliano cried as she described Thomas’ unhealthy weight loss and bony frame. She decided to keep a journal to document how often Thomas asked for food, she testified, and when she saw him eating crumbs off the floor.

She said she was relieved when Thomas was absent for two days in May 2019 after she told Child Protective Services that the boy had come to school with a bruise on his forehead. Thomas told her that he received the bruise after his father threw his backpack — containing a plant from a school sale — at him, Cagliano said. 

“Thank God CPS took him,” Cagliano said she thought at the time. “Thank God CPS finally did something.”

Prosecutors have said that Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, suffered through years of alleged abuse and neglect at the hands of Valva before Thomas died from hypothermia after being forced to sleep in the unheated garage on Bittersweet Lane without blankets or mattresses. Prosecutors have said the boys — both on the autism spectrum but high functioning— struggled with incontinence, which infuriated Valva and his ex-fiancee, Angela Pollina. 

Valva and Pollina have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges. Pollina will be tried at a later date. Valva’s defense attorneys have attempted to place the blame on Pollina, whom they have described as a domineering woman. 

Michael Valva, inside Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Monday,...

Michael Valva, inside Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Credit: James Carbone

Valva, overwhelmed financially and emotionally by a lengthy custody battle with the boys’ mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, was forced to stay in Pollina’s good graces because he had nowhere else to go, according to his lawyers.

Both teachers described Thomas as a smart, sweet boy who got along with his classmates and was a stickler for following classroom rules. They both testified that Valva described his son during meetings with them as a bad boy who lied and tried to manipulate others — and then launched into complaints about Zubko-Valva, the boys’ mother. 

Wilson said she and principal Edward Schneyer called Child Protective Services after the boys came into school with bruises in November 2019. Valva threatened to file a lawsuit against the educators, she said. 

Thomas looked unhealthy when he returned to school after the holiday break in January 2020, Wilson testified. His hands and face were bright red, she said, and walked with a limp. “He was shuffling,” she said. 

Wilson broke down in tears when Kelly asked her about Thomas’ absence from school on Jan. 17, 2020, the day the boy died.

“There is something going on in that house,” she said Schneyer told her that day. 

Earlier in the trial Monday, Christine MacQuarrie, an educational consultant who works with autistic students in East Moriches schools, said she met with Valva at his home on March 12, 2019, for a “parent training” to deal with Anthony’s incontinence issues and his refusal to leave the school bus.

“Mr. Valva spoke a lot about Anthony’s mother and his thoughts and opinions on her,” said MacQuarrie, referring to Justyna Zubko-Valva. She added: “It was all negative.”

MacQuarrie said Valva told her he was an NYPD transit officer and compared the smell of the city’s subways to Anthony’s bedroom.

MacQuarrie said she left the home feeling “positive” and that she would be able to assist the family, but a few days later Valva sent an email “that he would not be requiring my services.” 

Testimony in the trial continues on Tuesday.

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