Jury selection in the murder trial of ex-NYPD officer Michael Valva and his former fiancee Angela Pollina, who are charged with murdering the ex-cop’s 8-year-old son, Thomas Valva, will begin April 27 — more than two years after the boy died when prosecutors said the defendants forced him to sleep in a freezing garage.
Supreme Court Justice William Condon announced the trial schedule Tuesday during a brief conference in a Riverhead courtroom.
Condon said it was likely his earlier ruling that dictated the prosecution would try both defendants at once, but with two juries, would stand given the declining number of COVID-19 infections on Long Island and the likelihood that court rules on mask-wearing and social distancing would be lifted by the start of jury selection.
"We’re actually going to physically alter the courtroom to be able to accommodate two panels of 18," said Condon. "It’s my intention to go forward with two juries, one trial. Obviously, if we had to do that today, we could not, because of the ongoing mask rules."
Neither defendant, who have been held in jail without bail since their arrests, appeared in court Tuesday. Valva, 42, and Pollina, 44, have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment charges in the hypothermia death of Thomas and the alleged abuse of his brother Anthony, then 10.
According to prosecutors, Thomas died after Valva and Pollina forced him to sleep in the unheated garage of their Center Moriches home in frigid temperatures.
Valva’s attorney has previously called Thomas’ death a "nightmarish accidental death" and cast blame on Pollina, calling her a "wicked, cruel stepmother" who "compelled them to be in the garage," referring to Thomas and Anthony. Pollina’s lawyer has claimed Pollina is innocent and said she was intimidated by Valva, who he said was solely in charge of caring for his sons.
Condon said "physical alterations" would have to be made to the courtroom in order to accommodate two juries as well as the needs of the prosecutors and defense attorneys. Condon scheduled an April 11 conference to conduct a "walk-through" for the attorneys ahead of the trial.
John LoTurco, the attorney representing Valva, said he expects the jury selection phase to last a month — about two weeks for each defendant. LoTurco said the prosecution gets to determine which defendant chooses first and he expects they’ll select his client.
"We need to find a fair and impartial jury, one that can put aside all the pretrial publicity and gauge this trial, based upon the evidence they hear at the trial and exclude out of their minds all of the negative publicity, specifically towards our client," he said.
LoTurco said it’s possible he would also seek to move the trial out of Suffolk County "if for any reason we feel that we cannot impanel a fair and impartial jury based upon pretrial publicity."