Michael Valva, inside Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in September.

Michael Valva, inside Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in September. Credit: James Carbone

A doctor testifying as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution in the murder trial of former NYPD Officer Michael Valva testified Monday that it was “reasonably likely” that the cop's 8-year-old son would have gone into cardiac arrest without being placed in a bath on the morning of his 2020 death. 

Dr. David Saintsing said the findings by the defense’s earlier expert witness Dr. Ken Zafren, who testified Friday that Thomas Valva went into cardiac arrest due to his father allegedly putting him in a warm bath after the boy had slept in a freezing garage, “would not be accurate.”

Saintsing, a Colorado-based emergency medicine physician, also questioned Zafren’s contention that doctors at Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue should have treated Thomas for hypothermia after his temperature registered 76.1 degrees minutes when he arrived at the hospital. Zafren also said that Thomas could have been resuscitated for hours after his 10:28 a.m. death.

“This care staff behaved and provided care in an exemplary fashion and were beyond reproach,” said Saintsing.

Dr. David Saintsing, left, arrives to testify in the murder...

Dr. David Saintsing, left, arrives to testify in the murder trial of former NYPD Officer Michael Valva. Credit: John Roca

The opposing medical opinions mirror the different theories held by prosecutors and the defense attorneys on what led to Thomas’ death.

Valva, according to prosecutors, forced his son, Thomas, and his older brother Anthony to sleep in the unheated garage of their Center Moriches home, often when temperatures plunged well below freezing. On the morning of Thomas’ Jan. 17, 2020, death, prosecutors allege Thomas slept in the garage and after having a toilet accident, Valva took his naked son outside and hosed him off with cold water from a spigot.

The medical examiner testified last week that Thomas died of hypothermia.

Valva’s defense attorneys have argued Valva bathed the boy in a warm bath in the basement of the home, which caused Thomas to go into cardiac arrest and he could have possibly been saved if emergency responders and hospital staff had treated the boy for hypothermia.

Valva, 43, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in Thomas’ death and four counts of child endangerment in the alleged abuse of Thomas and Anthony, then 10. Valva’s ex-fiancee Angela Pollina, 45, has also pleaded not guilty and is expected to be tried at a later date.

Defense attorney Anthony La Pinta maintained that Saintsing was not an expert in hypothermia and therefore his opinions were irrelevant.

An undated photograph of Thomas Valva.

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

In his cross examination of Saintsing, La Pinta questioned the physician’s expertise in treating hypothermia. Saintsing said he took a “special interest” in it after a patient in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, died from the condition about 20 years ago. 

Saintsing testified that he offered an opinion in a legal case involving a boat that capsized off Massachusetts three years ago. But under questioning from La Pinta, he acknowledged that he did not mention hypothermia experience or education on the one-page resume he sent to Suffolk prosecutors when he was hired to testify in the case. 

Nor does the word “hypothermia” appear on the website for Saintsing’s medical consulting firm, Saintsing admitted.

“I think it is very clear that this witness has very, very, very little, minimal experience in hypothermia,” La Pinta said after court Monday.

Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William Condon told the jury that in most cases, prosecution rebuttal witnesses would testify after the defense rested. Condon allowed Saintsing to testify Monday because of a scheduling conflict.

Defense witness Tyrene Rodriguez, Valva’s former housekeeper, testified before the prosecution rested on Oct. 21, also because of travel conflicts. That was the only day Rodriguez, a former Mastic resident who now lives in Ohio, was available to testify. 

Condon also explained to the jury the absence of one of the prosecutors, James Scahill.

“He’s the proud father of a brand-new baby girl,” Condon told the panel.

Valva’s lawyers declined to say who their next witness will be, but Condon told the jury that he expects them to call witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday before they rest their case. 

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will most likely deliver closing statements Thursday, Condon said, and the jury will probably begin deliberations on Friday.

The trial continues in Riverhead on Tuesday.


 

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