Long Island

Stepmom Guilty of Murder in 8-Year-Old Long Island Boy's Freezing Death

Angela Pollina will be sentenced in April after a jury found the Long Island woman guilty on all counts

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A jury has reached a verdict in the trial of the stepmother of an 8-year-old boy on Long Island who died after he was forced to sleep in the family's freezing garage. The boy's ex-NYPD cop father has already been convicted.

Angela Pollina was found guilty on all counts Friday afternoon for her role in the death of Thomas Valva. The verdict comes after a heart-wrenching trial in which prosecutors portrayed her as "wanton, evil and cruel" — as well as a murderer. Pollina's defense attorneys said that no matter what anyone might think of her behavior toward the child, she did not murder him.

In the courtroom, Pollina was visibly upset after the reading of the verdict: guilty of second-degree murder and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. It followed five hours of deliberation and an emotional two-week trial.

The jurors began deliberations by asking questions of the judge, including a detailed explanation of the charges against Pollina.

It took the jury five hours to come to a unanimous decision after the two-week trial. One of the jurors said that after the courtroom cleared following the verdict, the judge came up to them and told them they reached the right conclusion.

The juror said that when he looked over at Pollina, it appeared as if she knew the guilty verdict was coming. He said that a but one juror wanted to convict right away, so they requested the medical examiner's testimony by read back of the hypothermia that Valva suffered. He said that evidence convinced the final juror.

"Unlike other cases, we had the video and we had the text messages. It really created a compelling story of what happened to those two poor boys," said Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney.

Valva and his older brother Anthony spent 16 hours in the garage of the Suffolk County home with no heat, on a night when the temperature outside plunged below freezing, according to prosecutors. The brothers, both with autism, were in the garage as punishment for constant urinating and defecating in the house.

The pair were washed in the backyard with cold water from the hose, because Pollina refused to let them in the house to bathe, prosecutors alleged.

In the days after Thomas died, investigators unraveled a disturbing series of allegations -- repeat, extreme punishment, starvation, being locked in a frigid garage for hours -- at the hands of his father and his then-fiancée. Jurors were shown autopsy photos, as well as videos showing the two boys shivering on the garage floor.

Prosecutors sought to portray Polina as a "wicked stepmother" who tortured the boys out of frustration of their incontinence problems. They urged the jurors not to believe Polina when she said she tried to help Thomas, who died of hypothermia and had an internal temperature of 76 degrees when he got to the hospital.

"She told Gia he was hypothermic, she never gave him a blanket then — that’s depraved...She never once asked if Thomas was OK after he had fallen, or if he should see a doctor — that’s depraved," said lead prosecutor Kerriann Kelly. "She knew something was very wrong with Thomas and she didn’t do anything. That’s depraved."

Prosecutors pressed Angelina Pollina today in court saying she was often the primary caregiver of child Thomas Valva who died. Pei-Sze Cheng reports.

Pollina was asked during the trial if she thought she had a "duty to protect [the boys] from harm" when she was watching them as their dad worked overnight, or if she treated them differently than the other children. She replied the same way both times, saying simply "I did the best that I could."

She was also asked if she allowed the boys to use the bathroom inside the four-bedroom, four-bathroom house. She said no.

Pollina's defense team told the jury not to be swayed by witnesses who testified that she was a cold, heartless, mean abusive stepmother. Despite the prosecution's character attacks, her attorneys said it didn't matter how she was viewed — she was not the one who killed Thomas Valva.

"I wanted to be truthful and say you can hate her, but she didn’t commit murder. I don’t think it’s even close, she’s been vilified by everyone," defense attorney Matthew Tuohy told jurors during closing arguments on Thursday.

Tuohy also said he did not regret putting Pollina on the stand, saying she wanted to testify.

The defense tried to distance Pollina from Michael Valva, who is serving 25 years to life in prison after he was found guilty in Nov. 2022 of murder in the death of his son. The jury also convicted him on manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges.

The defense in the father's trial said it was Pollina's idea to put the children out there, while Pollina's attorneys pinned the blame on Michael. Prosecutors in Pollina's trial insisted the pair acted together to torture the young boy.

"They didn’t give them access to a bathroom while they were kept in the garage.  They denied those children the basic necessities of life together, that’s acting in concert,” said Kelly.

There were text messages between Pollina and Michael Valva that showed Pollina had refused to let the boys use the bathrooms in the house, and even tried to punish them by taking away mattresses and blankets from the garage where they were exiled.

A 2019 text from Michael Valva to Pollina read: "My son is not going to be treated like an outcast anymore. He’s no longer going to sleep on a concrete floor anymore. He’s not going to be exiled, I’m not having it anymore."

Another text was sent on Jan. 5, 2020, from Pollina. It read: "Everything is coming out of there, books, clothes etc. They are too comfortable of a punishment because you made it a home. There should not be one thing that belongs in a bedroom there."

Two weeks later, Thomas Valva died.

Pollina's ex, and the father of her youngest daughter, said during her trial that "my daughter and one of the twins understood — just do whatever mom says, and you get the least amount of backlash." After the verdict, he said it felt good, but "it doesn't fix what these kids went through, and what Tommy went through...gad she's being held responsible.

Pollina is expected back in court on April 11 for sentencing.

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