A former NYPD officer broke down in tears in court as he was handed down a life sentence for the murder of his eight-year-old son with autism.
Michael Valva, 43, was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2018 hypothermia death of his son, Thomas Valva. Valva forced the little boy to sleep naked in the freezing garage of his Long Island home, where temperatures dropped under 20 degrees.
On Thursday, Suffolk County Judge William Condon sentenced Valva to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years served, despite the defence’s request for a lower sentence after highlighting Valva’s career in law enforcement, ABC reported.
“My actions were neglectful and abusive to my boys resulting in the tragic death of Thomas,” a tearful Valva said in a statement during his sentencing. “Your honour, I accept your sentence as I already sentenced myself to a lifetime filled [with] extreme regret, remorse and grief,” Valva said.
Judge Condon said he didn’t think Valva had intentionally killed his son, but that he must be held accountable for the abusive punishments he made Thomas and his other sons endure. Valva’s then-fiancée, 45-year-old Angela Pollina, will be tried for the death of Thomas in February 2023.
“An eight-year-old boy who right now should be getting excited for Christmas is dead, I speak for everybody out there, we can never let this happen again,” Judge Condon said.
During the trial, prosecutors described in horror detail how Valva subjected his three sons to neglect and cruelty amid a bitter divorce and custody battle with their mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva.
Ms Pollina, who also faces second-degree murder and child endangerment charges, is accused of having sprayed Thomas with cold water during a 16-hour torture session on the night he died while Valva worked the night shift as an NYPD officer, according to Newsday.
“Valva and Pollina absolutely hated my children, and took a sick pleasure in inhumanly, brutally, and sadistically tortur[ing] them, abus[ing] them, and starv[ing] them on daily basis,” Ms Zubko-Valva wrote in a Facebook post after the sentencing.
“Michael Valva untruthfully stated at his sentencing Court appearance that he never in his worst nightmares would’ve imagined being responsible for Thomas’ death. What he really tried to imply here is that he never in his worst nightmares would’ve expect[ed] to get sentenced for his horrific crimes …”
Authorities testifying in the five-week trial said that the couple would often force the brothers to sleep in the garage while naked and without blankets as part of cruel punishments.
Text messages around the time of Thomas’ death on 17 January 2020 show that Ms Pollina allegedly sent a video of the boy to his father before going to bed, and asked whether she should send him to school the next morning. Mr Valva allegedly answered: “F*** that piece of s*** Thomas. He’s not going anywhere.”
On the eve of Thomas’ death, Ms Pollina reportedly sent videos of Thomas lying in the cold and freezing to Valva, local journalist Lisa Finn reported on Patch after the couple was indicted in 2020.
When paramedics arrived the next morning, it was 19 degrees outside and they found Thomas naked, with no blankets and his sweatpants pulled down to his knees.
His organs shut down hours later at the hospital.
Valva’s lawyer attempted to argue that he felt intimidated by “wicked stepmother” Pollina and that she had been the culprit mastermind behind the cruel punishments.
In court, school officials testified that the Valva children often attended class soaked in urine and faeces and that they appeared to have scratches and bruises across their faces and arms. A teacher told the court that Thomas was so emaciated, that he would eat crumbs off the school floor.
Teachers reportedly “flooded” CPS lines and the children’s mother said she sent the department a flash drive with 320 files of evidence of abuse, but an investigation into the abuse Valva was accused of taking part in was closed just ten days before Thomas’s death.
Edward Schneyer, the school’s principal, said that the reports to CPS led to accusations from Valva that school officials were harassing his family.
Ms Zubko-Valva has been outspoken about her fight with the court system to gain full custody of her children. In a video posted by Ms Zubko-Valva in 2018, one of the children tells their mother that “daddy is going to put me outside” and “in the backyard” if they say that they love their mother.
Following Thomas’ death, Ms Zubko-Valva filed a $200m wrongful death suit against CPS caseworkers and investigators, school officials at East Moriches Union Free School District, her children’s attorneys in the custody battle and Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman. Pollina and Valva are also named in the suit.
The Suffolk County Department of Social Services filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, but a judge ruled in June that some parts of the suit could proceed.
According to Ms Zubko-Valva’s lawsuit, “Tommy’s death was not only foreseeable but completely preventable.”
“For over three years, Plaintiff Justyna Zubko Valva begged, implored and pleaded with Defendants to remove Tommy, as well as his two brothers, Anthony and Andrew,” the filing, reviewed by The Independent reads, “from the custody of [Valva and Pollina] who had abused, starved and tortured the children for years. The Defendants did nothing.”