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Court papers: 8-year-old Thomas Valva was bruised, had hair missing and walked with a limp

A picture of Thomas Valva at St. John

A picture of Thomas Valva at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Center Moriches in January 2020. Credit: James Carbone

Eight-year-old Thomas Valva, who Suffolk prosecutors say died last year after his NYPD officer father and his fiancee forced the boy to sleep in an unheated garage in frigid temperatures, was bruised, had missing hair and walked with a limp before his death and had a medical condition consistent with "prolonged stress" in children, prosecutors said in newly filed court documents.

The new details of Thomas’ physical condition were laid out in court documents filed March 11 in response to requests from defendants, Michael Valva and Angela Pollina, to have evidence in the case thrown out on the grounds it was obtained illegally by investigators. Both have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment in Thomas’ death and the alleged abuse of his older brother Anthony, then 10.

"Thomas was observed to have bruises, was missing hair and had a limp for a protracted period of time," Suffolk prosecutors Kerriann Kelly and Grazia DiVincenzo wrote.

The prosecutors said that Thomas, a third-grader at East Moriches Elementary School who died Jan. 17, 2020, from hypothermia, also suffered "chronic inflammation to his kidneys and a small thymus — conditions consistent with having suffered from prolonged stress."

Prosecutors also alleged that Valva and Pollina "encouraged" Anthony, who had autism, to "misbehave on the bus to school and in school" in an effort to "effectuate his leaving school and entry into a residential program from children with autism."

Valva and Pollina claimed in separate motions filed last year that Suffolk police unlawfully searched their Center Moriches home without permission and before obtaining a search warrant. Their attorneys are also seeking to have the defendants tried separately and to have any statements they made to investigators thrown out.

Pollina's attorney, Matthew Tuohy, said his client is innocent.

"It was the sole acts of Michael Valva that lead to his son Thomas' death," Tuohy wrote. "The core of her defense is that Michael Valva is solely guilty and 'completely' at fault for Thomas Valva's death, and that she is 'entirely' innocent."

Tuohy argued that Valva — as the father — had "complete dominion and control over everything they did," put the boys to sleep in the garage the night before Thomas died. Tuohy also detailed how Valva, after the boys woke up on the morning of Jan. 17, "by himself took his son Thomas Valva into the backyard and hosed him off with cold water in near freezing temperatures."

Pollina "only noticed what had happened at the conclusion of Michael Valva's action" at which point, according to Tuohy's motion, "scolded him to stop and voiced her dismay."

Valva then "began to attempt to warm his son" a "warm shower-bath when he realized the boy was in danger from the cold," Tuohy wrote, adding that Pollina "warned him to stop, and told him that this would not help the boy and could cause him further harm."

Prosecutors, in court papers, were critical of Pollina's claims, writing: "Any attempt by Pollina to blame Valva for all of the harm and potential harm caused to the children in this case is highly suspect. Pollina’s defense seems to rely entirely on her own self-serving affidavit and at this point it is premature to accept that she will testify. …. There does not appear to be a clear factual basis for Pollina to separate her conduct and responsibility from that of Valva, such that the alleged finger pointing at Valva is suspect."

In replying to the defendants' motions, Kelly and DiVincenzo said the documents were "riddled with falsehoods" and their claims had no merits.

The police, they wrote, were initially granted access to the home because of the unfolding emergency, and under the law, police are permitted to secure such an area as a crime scene and seize evidence.

But prosecutors said they got permission to search the home, access video and audio and that both Valva and Pollina spoke to investigators freely. Authorities ultimately obtained three search warrants in the case, according to court papers.

"The evidence will show that Pollina and Valva gave consent to search the house," prosecutors wrote. "That morning, Valva even instructed the police where to find a bag in which he had placed Thomas’s clothing. And, Pollina made no objection to the police presence in the residence — even after Thomas was taken to the hospital. She even, later that day, assisted law enforcement to gain access to the Nest camera system by providing police the password to the system."

Acting Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William Condon has set a May 11 date for a pretrial hearing in the case to determine whether any evidence should be suppressed.

Tuohy's motion also contained a sworn affidavit from Valva's divorce attorney Shana L. Curti asserting that she "told the police they had to leave and to stop searching the house" after Thomas died.

But prosecutors denied that.

"The record at the expected suppression hearing will show at no point were the police told to leave — not by Pollina, Valva or anyone else," Kelly and DiVincenzo wrote.

The prosecutors, however, said they would consider requests to try the pair separately, though they said the issue should be considered at a later date.

"While ultimately we may urge that partial severance in the form of dual juries would be appropriate, at this time — especially before the resolution of all pretrial hearing issues, this claim for severance is premature."

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