Evidence Allowed in Murder Trial
A Suffolk County judge ruled Thursday that key video surveillance and other physical evidence will be admitted at the murder trials of the former NYPD officer and his then-fiancée charged in the killing of the officer’s 8-year-old son Thomas Valva.
Defense attorneys for Michael Valva and his former fiancée Angela Pollina, both charged with second-degree murder in Thomas’ Jan. 17, 2020, hypothermia death, had argued the Nest camera and Ring door bell video, as well as a bag containing Thomas’ clothing, was obtained by police illegally. The defense said police failed to get permission from either Valva or Pollina to search the home, and didn’t get a warrant, so the evidence should be thrown out.
Prosecutors had dismissed those claims, arguing both defendants spoke freely with investigators, allowed access to the home and even directed detectives to the clothing and provided the username and password to the surveillance camera systems.
Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William Condon, in a 12-page decision following a week of pretrial hearings in May over whether a jury should be able to consider the evidence, sided with the prosecution.
“The record is clear that defendant Michael Valva freely and of his own volition consented to the police presence in his home,” wrote Condon, who also ruled Valva voluntarily told police where to find the clothing.
“Those items were only recovered because the defendant told them where they could be located.”
Condon added that “there were no threats or coercive behaviors by the police and Pollina’s and Valva’s cooperation with the police investigation is evidence of voluntary consent.”
Condon also set a fall trial date, with jury selection to commence on Oct. 12 and indicated he would allow dual juries to consider the case. The prosecution is expected to present at least 36 witnesses, a prosecutor told the judge.
Thomas Valva died from hypothermia after prosecutors alleged Valva and Pollina, who have both pleaded not guilty, forced the boy to sleep in the unheated garage at his Center Moriches home when temperatures dipped to just 19 degrees outside.
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, in brief comments after the judge’s decision was issued, said the prosecution is pleased the “critical” and “important” evidence will be presented at trial.
“We’re focused on preparing for trial and holding these defendants accountable for their heinous actions,” said Sini.
Valva’s lead defense attorney John LoTurco said he was “very disappointed” that the judge had rejected his suppression motion.
The judge also announced that he had agreed to grant at least a partial severance, meaning the fate of both defendants would not be considered by a single jury. Defense attorneys had argued a single jury deciding the fate of both Valva and Pollina would be unfair to their clients, who plan to blame each other for Thomas’ death.
Condon said he’ll decide by Sept. 8 whether prosecutors will try both defendants in one trial with two juries, or hold two separate trials.
Valva defense attorney Anthony LaPinta argued that the video evidence, which contains the defendants discussing their “family dynamic,” would make it impossible for two separate juries at the same trial to consider the culpability of only one defendant.
“That evidence is so inextricably interwoven, that it would be an impossible task to dissect it and to have a dual jury consider the evidence in a logical, fair, systematic, error-free environment,” said LaPinta.
LaPinta also argued that having two juries in a single courtroom, given the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant, would be a “nightmare.”
Assistant District Attorney Glenn Green, chief of the office’s appeals bureau, said he agreed that the prosecutions should be partially severed — with two juries separately deciding the fate of each defendant in one trial — but argued against the court conducting separate trials, saying the defense had not shown their clients would be negatively impacted by the partial severance.
“This is not two people committing different acts, different crimes; they are doing this jointly,” Green told the judge. “They are charged as acting in concert. The reason we are accepting the need for dual juries in this case, is because it is very clear as has been expressed to your honor, that defendant Pollina’s position is to blame Mr. Valva for what happened in this case and because of that antagonism, we recognize, in the interest of fairness, a dual jury is the way to go in this matter.”