Amidst all the bad news, how about a little schadenfreude to brighten your day?
First, a very quick refresher: Eight-year-old Thomas Valva, a beautiful little boy with brown eyes, brown hair, and autism, was rushed to Long Island Community Hospital on January 17, 2020, where he was pronounced dead with a core temperature of 76 degrees. Investigators soon determined that as punishment for some imaginary transgression, Thomas’s father, Michael Valva, and the man’s fiancee, Angela Pollina, had forced Thomas and his 10-year-old brother, Anthony, who was also on the autism spectrum, to spend the night in unheated garage of the family’s home in Center Moriches, New York. Temperatures overnight had reached a low of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, and the boys had no pillows, blankets, or extra clothing to shield them from the freezing concrete floor.
Anthony was exceptionally fortunate to survive. Thomas, unfortunately, did not.
(Note: I am only naming Thomas’s brothers because their names are well known at this point, and their mother talks about them publicly often.)
Thomas’s death was ruled a homicide with a major contributing factor of hypothermia, and he also had injuries to his head, face, knees, elbows, and right flank that did not match Michael’s account of Thomas falling in the driveway that morning.
Both Michael and Angela were charged with second-degree murder and child endangerment and have been in custody since their January arrests. Michael, a 15-year veteran of the New York Police Department who had, most recently, been assigned to the NYPD’s traffic bureau, had been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal case.
After a brief status conference in Suffolk County Court on Wednesday, November 4, Michael’s attorney, John LoTurco, told reporters his client had resigned from the NYPD. “He voluntarily resigned today,” LoTurco said. “He executed paperwork in that regard today, which protects his benefits and his pension. There’s no admission of any wrongdoing. It allows him to forgo any disciplinary hearing and in exchange, he will no longer receive any salary or any future benefits.”
Well, so much for “protecting his pension,” because according to NYPD department spokesman Sergeant Jessica McRorie, Michael Valva resigned without permission from the police commissioner, which means he will not collect his pension.
NYPD News said on Twitter, “Former NYPD Officer Michael Valva, charged in the January death of his 8-year-old son in Suffolk County, resigned from the NYPD. He will NOT be receiving a pension.”
“He will not be receiving a pension,” Sgt. McRorie confirmed. “However, he will receive any money he contributed to the pension system back.” She was not able to provide the news outlet with the amount Michael had paid into the system or the interest earned over his 15 year tenure.
Michael and Angela have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and face 25 years to life in prison if convicted. On November 4, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William Condon set a hearing date for December 16 to determine the admissibility at trial of some statements Michael allegedly made to investigators regarding his son’s death, possibly including his claim that Thomas fell in the driveway while waiting for the school bus. Prosecutors have also said that after Thomas was pronounced dead at the hospital, Michael was asked if he needed anything, to which he replied, “I’ve been through more stressful things than this.”
Of course, LoTurco, who epitomizes the slimy defense attorney to a tee, wouldn’t comment on any of the statements, saying, “I’m not commenting on any statements that we are attempting to preclude as a part of our application to exclude any statements. I’m not going to comment on our strategy.”
LuTurco also plans to make a motion for severance of Michael and Angela’s cases. They are currently under the same indictment, but LoTurco says their defenses are “antagonistic.” In other words, as far as I can tell, they’re planning to blame each other for Thomas’s death.
Thomas’s mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, also attended the November 4 hearing, as she has attended most (if not all) of the hearings thus far. She said outside the courthouse, “His attorney’s going to try to challenge the statements made by Michael to the police… The first original statement he made in regards to Thomas’s death was Tommy fell in the driveway and hit his head… then he changed his statement.”
She said despite LoTurco and Michael’s attempts to disqualify certain statements, the evidence in the case, like Thomas’s body temperature, will be very difficult to explain away.
Justyna spent years documenting the abuse Michael doled out on her children. Thomas and his older brother were often sent to school with inadequate food, wearing filthy, sometimes urine-stained clothing or even diapers despite their advanced ages; school officials made reports to CPS about this, as well as seeing the boys eat scraps out of garbage cans. Justyna has released multiple recordings on Twitter of Michael, Angela, and even Angela’s young daughters attempting to brainwash the boys into believing Justyna was an abusive parent who hated them.
She repeatedly reported the boys’ “severe abuse” to Child Protective Services, the police, family court, and anyone else who would listen, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Her story is one of the most egregious examples I’ve seen of the failure of CPS and the family court system to protect a child who clearly needed protection and to side, inexplicably, with an abusive parent, much like the case of James Biel. The way loving parents are treated in family court when they dare allege abuse against the other parent is obscenely disgusting. The Washington Post published an excellent piece on this topic.
James Biel’s mother, Kara Witkowski, has also documented her experiences on her Justice For James Facebook page.
In June of this year, Justyna filed a $200 million wrongful death lawsuit against multiple parties, including: several CPS caseworkers, investigators, and supervisors; the East Moriches Union Free School District; the principal and superintendent of Thomas’s school; Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman; Donna McCabe and Ethan Halpern, both attorneys assigned to represent the Valva boys; Suffolk County Department of Social Services county attorney Randall Ratje; and Michael Valva and Angela Pollina. In Justyna’s filing, her attorney, Jon Norinsberg of Manhattan, stated that “the tragedy started on September 6, 2017, when Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Hope Schwartz Zimmerman unlawfully, and without due process, a hearing or supporting evidence against Ms. Zubko-Valva, gave custody of her three children, including Tommy, to Michael Valva, even though a prior judge in the case had barred Valva from overnight visits.”
The complaint continued, “Tommy’s death was not only foreseeable, but completely preventable.”
Now, get this. LoTurco, Michael Valva’s attorney, doesn’t represent Michael in his defense against the civil lawsuit filed by Justyna, but he did have this to say about it: “We do concur with his estranged wife that there was systemic failure by CPS in the lack of their ability to remove the children in a timely manner. After we’ve reviewed the evidence, we have come to the conclusion that the children should have been managed more properly by CPS as well as the school system. But that has no impact on our defense in the criminal matter — and we continue to zealously and aggressively assert his innocence as it pertains to the criminal indictment and the top charge of murder in the second degree.”
You have got to be kidding me. The fact that LoTurco is trying to play both sides — blaming CPS for not removing the children sooner and the school system for not “managing” them more effectively (whatever that means) while also absolving his client of any blame in Thomas’s abuse — exemplifies why many consider attorneys to be soulless and unscrupulous.
Thomas’s case is incredibly in-depth, with far more horrifying details than I can reasonably rehash in one update post, so check out my previous posts for more information about Thomas’s case. You can also listen to part 1 and part 2 of my coverage of Thomas’s story on Suffer the Little Children podcast.
Sources: Newsday, News 12 The Bronx, Patch