According to a defense witness who testified in Riverhead on Friday at the murder trial of Michael Valva, the ex-NYPD officer’s alleged act of bathing his 8-year-old son in a warm bath put him in cardiac arrest, which caused or contributed to his hypothermia death. Credit: Tom Lambui

Ex-NYPD Officer Michael Valva’s alleged act of bathing his 8-year-old son in a warm bath put him in cardiac arrest, which caused or contributed to his hypothermia death, a defense witness testified at Valva's murder trial on Friday.

“The showering or bathing was the event that most likely caused the cardiac event,” said Dr. Ken Zafren, an Alaska-based emergency medicine physician who has written extensively on hypothermia.

Zafren's opinions on Thomas Valva's condition and the treatment he received the morning he died on Jan. 17, 2020, drawn out by defense attorney Anthony La Pinta, sought to demonstrate the defense theory that Thomas' death was an accident caused when Valva allegedly bathed Thomas in warm water after he had spent the night in an unheated garage in 19-degree weather.

Thomas could have been saved if he received medical intervention for hypothermia, Zafren said.  His temperature was 76.1 degrees when it was taken at Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue minutes before he was pronounced dead at 10:28 a.m.

“He could have been resuscitated for quite some time…hours after,” said Zafren, who was deemed an expert witness by the court, allowing him to offer his opinions.

Dr. Ken Zafren, a witness in the murder trial of former...

Dr. Ken Zafren, a witness in the murder trial of former NYPD Officer Michael Valva, arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Friday. Credit: Tom Lambui

Prosecutors maintain that Thomas died after Valva washed the naked child with cold water from an outside spigot after he slept in the freezing garage and he was already dead when first responders, who earlier in the trial testified that Thomas appeared “lifeless” with pale skin and blue lips, arrived to his Center Moriches home. The only indication of Thomas receiving a warm bath, according to prosecutors, was Valva’s word.

Prosecutors also allege that Valva lied to first responders and doctors, and therefore prevented Thomas from receiving treatment for hypothermia, when he said his son suffered head injuries from falling on the driveway as he ran for the school bus.

Instead, prosecutors have said, the bleeding scrapes on Thomas' face happened when he fell several times because he was unable to stand while battling the effects of hypothermia.

Valva, 43, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with Thomas’ death and the alleged abuse of Thomas and his older brother Anthony, then 10. The boys were allegedly starved, beaten and banished to the garage without blankets or pillows in the months leading up to Thomas’ death, prosecutors have said. Valva’s ex-fiancee Angela Pollina, 45, has also pleaded not guilty to the charges and is expected to go on trial at a later date.

Valva’s defense team has argued Valva should be found not guilty of second-degree murder under the depraved indifference theory because the father never meant for his son to die.

Ex-NYPD Officer Michael Valva is on trial at Suffolk County Court...

Ex-NYPD Officer Michael Valva is on trial at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead, Credit: James Carbone

Valva tried to save his son, by calling 911 and performing CPR on the boy, which doesn’t indicate a depraved state of mind, Valva’s defense attorneys have argued. Valva thought his son fell unconscious from a head injury, and never thought it was due to him suffering from hypothermia, his attorneys have argued.

Valva had previously thought about the possibility of Thomas and Anthony getting hypothermia, according to trial evidence. About 12 days before Thomas died, according to a text message shown to the jury, Valva texted Pollina and noted it was snowing and “real cold out,” before adding: “boys better not get hypothermia.”

Zafren, who said he reviewed Thomas' medical records, autopsy report as well as video evidence in the case, said either a warm or hot bath would have caused vasodilation, a constricting of blood vessels, that would have forced Thomas’ blood away from his heart and towards his arms and legs, leaving the heart without any blood to pump and causing the cardiac arrest.

Prosecution witness Dr. Michael Caplan, the former Suffolk County medical examiner, testified earlier this week that Thomas died from hypothermia.

On cross examination, Zafren agreed with lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly that the paramedics, EMT's, doctors and other medical professionals all tried to save Thomas' life. First responders and hospital staff had attempted several life-saving methods, including giving Thomas multiple doses of epinephrine, a drug to restore cardiac rhythm, and continuing CPR while Thomas was unconscious with no pulse, not breathing and continuing to be in cardiac arrest.

An undated photograph of Thomas Valva.

An undated photograph of Thomas Valva. Credit: Courtesy Justyna Zubko-Valva

"There was one person that wasn't [trying to save Thomas’ life] and that was Michael Valva because he lied to them, wasn't it?" Kelly asked, pointing at Valva when she said his name. 

La Pinta objected and Condon sustained the objection, so Zafren didn’t answer the question. 

Kelly also sought to highlight gaps in Zafren’s knowledge of the case and repeatedly expressed surprise at the hypothermia expert’s contention that it didn’t matter what Valva told doctors about what precipitated Thomas falling unconscious.

“It might be important,” said Zafren. “In this case, I don’t think it was.”

The trial continues in Riverhead on Monday.

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months