Angela Pollina’s story: Her role in Thomas Valva’s murder

By Chege Karomo — ON Mar 15, 2023
Angela Pollina
Angela Pollina, takes the stand to testify in her murder trial in Judge Tim Mazzei’s courtroom at Suffolk County Court on March 8, 2023. | Photo by James Carbone/Newsday RM

On 17th January, Michael Valva called emergency services claiming his son, Thomas Valva, had fallen while chasing the school bus and lost consciousness. The police found Michael performing CPR on Thomas. Thomas was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital; upon close examination of his body, authorities concluded that he’d been murdered. 

Angela Pollina, Thomas’ stepmother, was recently found guilty of second-degree mother in relation to the boy’s death. “This defendant will now face the consequences of her actions and will experience her own imprisonment just as she forced these boys to live imprisoned in a freezing garage,” the Suffolk County DA, Raymond Tierney, said. 

Pollina admitted to oppressing Thomas but said she didn’t kill him

Thomas Valva was born on 14th September 2011 to Michael Valva and Justyna Zubko-Valva. In late 2014, Justyna accused Michael of having an affair with Angela Pollina. Following Michael and Justyna’s divorce, he took custody of their three sons and moved in with Pollina and her three daughters. 

Teachers at Thomas’ school testified that they observed signs of abuse and neglect on Thomas and his older brother, Anthony, who were both on the autism spectrum. They said that the boys often complained of hunger and cold. 

Thomas Valva

Per The Daily Mail, one teacher testified that Thomas once said he was denied breakfast by Pollina because he couldn’t verbally greet Pollina. School principal Edward Schneyer said they reported their concerns to Michael, who brushed them aside. 

Schneyer said they filed many complaints with CPS about Thomas’ welfare. Justyna also said she gave CPS evidence of Thomas’ abuse, but nothing was done. She stated that CPS closed their investigation into Michael and Pollina 10 days before Thomas died. 

“I treated them bad,” Pollina testified in her defense. “I treated them evil. I put them in the garage. It was horrible. Yes, I did… I exiled them.” Pollina’s blunt admission of cruelty drove some jurors to tears. She added that she was ‘comfortable’ the day Thomas died and described the weather as ‘a little chilly.’

Pollina admitted that she treated Thomas and Anthony poorly but blamed her ex-fiance, Michael, for killing Thomas. “She was a bad person before… but not on that day,” Pollina’s attorney Matthew Tuohy stated. “We don’t convict people because they’re bitches.”

“[Angela Pollina] forced him out into the cold!” Assistant DA Kerrian Kelly stated. “Thomas was tortured and died for the sin of being autistic. [Thomas] was not allowed in the house, not allowed to use a bathroom. That was all because of this defendant.”

Pollina faces 25 years to life for her second-degree murder conviction

Thomas’ body temperature the day he died was 76.1 degrees – the average body temperature is 98.6 degrees. “The medical examiner has ruled it a homicide with a major contributing factor of hypothermia,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart told NBC News

“We believe certainly that Thomas was kept in the garage overnight preceding his death.” Thomas and Anthony had spent the night in an unheated garage, with temperatures outside plummeting to 19 degrees, as a punishment for urinating and defecating in the house. 

Microphones set up in the house by Child Protective Services recorded Michael ordering Thomas to hose himself down in the cold temperatures. Thomas reportedly lost consciousness while hosing himself down. Recordings caught Michael and Pollina joking about Thomas’ condition. 

Michael waited for an hour before calling emergency services. We will likely never learn the true extent of the couple’s cruelty towards their autistic children, as Pollina erased almost all of the footage recorded by home surveillance cameras. 

Nevertheless, prosecutors proved their case using the recovered footage and audio, text messages, and testimony from witnesses. The jury took five hours to find Pollina guilty of second-degree murder and four counts of child endangerment. DA Raymond Tierney said:

“The cruelty that Thomas and his brother had to endure because of this defendant’s callous and selfish conduct is abhorrent, and, thankfully, the jury clearly agreed. Her treatment of these children was nothing short of pure evil.”

“The evidence showed that It couldn’t have been just the hosing down in the backyard alone that gave the child hypothermia,” a juror told CBS News. “It was also the garage floor which the defendant was involved with, making the child sleep there.”

Another juror admitted that the jury got emotional during Pollina’s trial, but they judged the case on the strength of the evidence. “I think you also have to be able to put those emotions to the side, right, and judge it strictly on the facts of the case, the evidence presented, and I think we did a great job doing that,” the juror said. 

Pollina, whose sentencing is scheduled for 11th April 2023, faces 25 years to life in prison.

Michael Valva expressed remorse for his role in Thomas’ murder

Thomas’ body told the story of the abuse he’d suffered under his father and stepmother: multiple organ failure caused by hypothermia, a chronic kidney infection from holding in urine, alopecia, sunken hips, and no body fat. 

Micheal’s attorneys painted him as a loving father manipulated by Pollina. Thomas’ father, a former police officer, expressed remorse for his actions:

“I am truly sorry, I’m regretful, ashamed, heartbroken and grief-stricken as I stand here before you, having contributed to the death of my son, Thomas. I love Thomas with all my heart, as I still love Anthony and Andrew.”

Judge William Condon described the trial as the most stressful of his legal career. “Everybody who took part in this trial lost sleep, didn’t eat, had nightmares – it was difficult for everyone,” Judge Condon said

Michael said he didn’t believe placing Thomas in a garage would kill him. “I don’t think you intended to kill Thomas,” Judge Condon concurred, “but there is no getting around that Thomas and Anthony lived their lives in constant duress. We can never let that happen again.”

Michael Valva
Ex-NYPD officer Michael Valva, inside Judge William Condon’s courtroom in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead | Photo by James Carbone/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Judge Condon sentenced Michael to 25 years to life. Justyna had prayed for justice for Thomas. “This should never have happened,” Justyna told NBC News in late January 2020. “I just keep praying for this case to be fully resolved and my little angel Thomas to rest peacefully in heaven. I just wish somebody helped him.”

DA Raymond Tierney said the department would learn lessons from the case to better protect the children of Suffolk County. “The story of Angela Pollina is coming to an end but the story of Anthony and Thomas Valva, that continues,” he said. 

Pollina’s attorney Matthew Tuohy told CBS News that she was devastated by the conviction. He suggested to NBC News that she would appeal: “She is understandably devastated about the conviction, and we are going to exhaust all next steps to try and help her.”