Michael Valva, attend a hearing at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead...

Michael Valva, attend a hearing at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in May. Credit: James Carbone

A judge dismissed a group of prospective jurors in the murder trial of an ex-NYPD officer charged in the hypothermia death of his 8-year-old son after a woman made a comment toward the defendant in a Riverhead courtroom Friday.

The incident occurred during the third day of prescreening of potential jurors in defendant Michael Valva's murder case as a large group was leaving the courtroom. 

"Fry him," the woman said, as she walked by the area where Valva was seated with his defense attorneys. 

Supreme Court Justice William Condon referenced the situation from the bench after having a sidebar conference with the lawyers and told the remaining prospective jurors — about 18 people — that they were dismissed. 

"Apparently, there was an unfortunate outburst from one of the jurors who was previously dismissed," Condon said, before relieving the group. Condon did not appear to take action against the woman who made the alleged comment. 

Valva's lead defense attorney, John LoTurco, said he and his client both heard the remark.

"This inflammatory statement exemplifies why it's vital that we cannot have a jury filled with '12 Angry Men,' but rather justice and fairness compels a jury filled with ladies and gentlemen with no preconceived opinions based upon external sources instead of the actual trial evidence," LoTurco said. "In cases with such high emotional appeal, jurors must be continually reminded that regardless of the nature of the allegations, every citizen in our land is afforded the presumption of innocence." 

Valva defense attorney Anthony La Pinta also decried the comment. 

"Profound comments such as this demonstrate an utter disregard for the principles of fairness that our justice system is based upon," said La Pinta. "There is no room in our deliberate and careful jury selection process for people to act in such an egregious manner and to have such wicked opinions without knowing all the facts of the case." 

Valva and co-defendant Angela Pollina have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and child endangerment in connection with Thomas' Jan. 17, 2020, death. Prosecutors have alleged Thomas died after they forced the boy to sleep in an unheated garage in freezing temperatures.

Valva’s attorneys have argued it was Pollina who directed Thomas to sleep in the garage, while Pollina’s attorney has said Valva was solely responsible for his son’s death.

Opening statements in their joint trial are tentatively scheduled for early October. Condon is expected to rule Monday on a defense motion seeking to sever the cases or employ another legal remedy after Valva alleged that he spoke about the facts of the case to Pollina's attorney when he briefly represented him before his initial arraignment. 

Condon screened over 250 prospective jurors Friday and 33 were moved onto the next round of jury selection, scheduled for next week when both the prosecutors and defense attorneys will have the opportunity to question the would-be jurors. Scores of prospective jurors said they had already made a determination about the case after reading or hearing about it in the media. Others said they couldn’t commit to the lengthy schedule.

Friday's jury selection process was punctuated by two separate evacuations of the courthouse when the building's fire alarm system rang. 

"I'm told the second one was an actual microwave incident," the judge said. 

As Valva was led by court officers from the courtroom Friday afternoon, he smiled at his attorneys and said "see you guys later." 

A judge dismissed a group of prospective jurors in the murder trial of an ex-NYPD officer charged in the hypothermia death of his 8-year-old son after a woman made a comment toward the defendant in a Riverhead courtroom Friday.

The incident occurred during the third day of prescreening of potential jurors in defendant Michael Valva's murder case as a large group was leaving the courtroom. 

"Fry him," the woman said, as she walked by the area where Valva was seated with his defense attorneys. 

Supreme Court Justice William Condon referenced the situation from the bench after having a sidebar conference with the lawyers and told the remaining prospective jurors — about 18 people — that they were dismissed. 

"Apparently, there was an unfortunate outburst from one of the jurors who was previously dismissed," Condon said, before relieving the group. Condon did not appear to take action against the woman who made the alleged comment. 

Valva's lead defense attorney, John LoTurco, said he and his client both heard the remark.

"This inflammatory statement exemplifies why it's vital that we cannot have a jury filled with '12 Angry Men,' but rather justice and fairness compels a jury filled with ladies and gentlemen with no preconceived opinions based upon external sources instead of the actual trial evidence," LoTurco said. "In cases with such high emotional appeal, jurors must be continually reminded that regardless of the nature of the allegations, every citizen in our land is afforded the presumption of innocence." 

Valva defense attorney Anthony La Pinta also decried the comment. 

"Profound comments such as this demonstrate an utter disregard for the principles of fairness that our justice system is based upon," said La Pinta. "There is no room in our deliberate and careful jury selection process for people to act in such an egregious manner and to have such wicked opinions without knowing all the facts of the case." 

Undated photograph of Thomas Valva.

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

Valva and co-defendant Angela Pollina have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and child endangerment in connection with Thomas' Jan. 17, 2020, death. Prosecutors have alleged Thomas died after they forced the boy to sleep in an unheated garage in freezing temperatures.

Valva’s attorneys have argued it was Pollina who directed Thomas to sleep in the garage, while Pollina’s attorney has said Valva was solely responsible for his son’s death.

Opening statements in their joint trial are tentatively scheduled for early October. Condon is expected to rule Monday on a defense motion seeking to sever the cases or employ another legal remedy after Valva alleged that he spoke about the facts of the case to Pollina's attorney when he briefly represented him before his initial arraignment. 

Condon screened over 250 prospective jurors Friday and 33 were moved onto the next round of jury selection, scheduled for next week when both the prosecutors and defense attorneys will have the opportunity to question the would-be jurors. Scores of prospective jurors said they had already made a determination about the case after reading or hearing about it in the media. Others said they couldn’t commit to the lengthy schedule.

Friday's jury selection process was punctuated by two separate evacuations of the courthouse when the building's fire alarm system rang. 

"I'm told the second one was an actual microwave incident," the judge said. 

As Valva was led by court officers from the courtroom Friday afternoon, he smiled at his attorneys and said "see you guys later." 

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