Defense attorneys for an ex-NYPD officer and his former fiancee blamed each other's clients for the hypothermia death of 8-year-old Thomas Valva following the close of pre-trial hearings in the case in Riverhead on Wednesday.
Thomas Valva died on Jan. 17, 2020 after — prosecutors alleged — the boy was forced by his father, Michael Valva, and his father’s then-fiancee, Angela Pollina, to sleep in an unheated garage at their Center Moriches home in 19-degree weather.
Valva, 42, and Pollina, 43, have both pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in connection with Thomas’ death and child endangerment charges in the alleged abuse of both Thomas and his brother Anthony, then 10. Both boys were on the autism spectrum, officials have said.
Pollina was a "wicked, cruel stepmother," according to Valva attorney John LoTurco, who spoke outside the Riverhead courthouse following a week of pre-trial hearings in the case to determine whether key evidence against the defendants will be admissible at trial.
"Angela herself, unfortunately, despised those autistic children and decided that she couldn't handle those children and compelled them to be in the garage," LoTurco said. "It's our theory that she is the wicked stepmother, that she was in charge of the children. She was the disciplinarian in the relationship. She had control of the surveillance camera system. Michael Valva really was meek; he was passive in the responsibility of the children, that she controlled the children."
Pollina's attorney Matthew Tuohy, meanwhile, said Valva is exclusively to blame for Thomas' death, claiming that Pollina was controlled and intimidated by him.
"My client is saying, and the evidence is going to show, that he is the one solely responsible and she is not," Tuohy said.
Tuohy, who had previously said publicly that he planned to have Pollina testify in her own defense, ultimately decided to keep her off the stand.
"She was disappointed but she understood my reasoning," said Tuohy. "We're in the second or third inning of a nine-inning game."
The attorneys made their arguments outside court as they prepared for the next phase in the case: pushing to get their clients separate trials. Because their defenses cast blame against one another, the defendants cannot be fairly tried by a single jury, the defense attorneys have said. Supreme Court Justice William Condon set oral arguments on the severance issue for July 8.
The defense has argued during the pre-trial hearings that the judge should exclude key prosecution evidence, including audio and video surveillance, statements made to police by both defendants and a bag of Thomas' clothes. Defense attorney contend the evidence was gained illegally.
They had also sought to have Condon throw out evidence against Valva and Pollina, arguing neither gave permission to police to stay inside their home, or search the area, after providing emergency aid to Thomas.
They also argued their clients – a then-veteran NYPD officer and his partner – were intimidated by Suffolk police investigators. Tuohy argued his client had been medicated with Xanax after Thomas died and she was not in the proper state of mind to know what she was agreeing to when she signed a permission form allowing police to access the home's surveillance system.
Suffolk police detectives who testified said neither Valva nor Pollina protested about the police presence.
Valva, according to police, directed officers to a bag of clothes Thomas had been wearing on the back deck of the home.
A next-door neighbor testified that when she saw Pollina at the hospital that day, she was in a bed, appeared to be sleeping and groggy and did not respond to her questions. A Suffolk police detective who interviewed Pollina moments later said she appeared "lucid."
Prosecutors must submit written closing arguments on the admissibility issue by June 17, the judge said.