Jury selection in the murder trial of the ex-NYPD officer and his former fiancée who are charged with killing the officer’s 8-year-old son, Thomas Valva, is slated to begin later this summer, the presiding judge said Friday.
After a series of delays mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Condon said jury selection in the trial of Michael Valva and Angela Pollina will begin Sept. 7, followed by a single trial with two juries to consider the evidence.
“That date is in stone,” Condon told prosecutors and defense attorneys during a brief conference in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
Valva and Pollina, of Center Moriches, who have both pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and child endangerment, did not appear in court Friday. They have been held in jail without bail since their arrests.
Thomas died on Jan. 17, 2020, after, according to prosecutors, the former couple forced the boy, who was on the autism spectrum, to sleep on a concrete slab in an unheated garage in freezing temperatures. Lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly has called the home where Valva and Pollina lived with his three sons and her two daughters a “house of horrors.”
The judge said Friday that the court will first proceed with jury selection for Valva, followed by the selection of a jury for Pollina. The defense had unsuccessfully argued for the defendants to be tried separately, citing their “antagonistic” defenses and the court’s then-coronavirus protocols mandating masks and social distancing.
The judge’s setting of a firm trial date comes a week after the state court system’s Office of Court Administration issued new coronavirus guidelines, which allow vaccinated individuals to forego mask-wearing inside courthouses.
Condon also ruled Friday against a defense motion that sought to give the jurors who will eventually decide the case the option of convicting the defendants on lesser charges. Condon sided with the prosecution, which had called the potential move premature.
“The court find that this motion is premature, as evidence presented during the trial has an impact on how the evidence is received,” Condon said in a written decision against the motion. “There may be evidence to support the people’s theory of the case that may not be admissible at trial and that is a determination that this court cannot make at this juncture.”
Attorney Anthony LaPinta, who represents Valva alongside defense attorney John LoTurco, had argued that the jury should be presented with charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide at the outset of the trial. Both charges are punishable by much shorter potential prison sentences than second-degree murder, which calls for a sentence of up to 25 years to life in prison.
Pollina’s attorney Matthew Tuohy had also joined the motion.
Condon, in court Friday, agreed to give the defense a requested 45 days to research and appeal.