RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (PIX11) — Former NYPD cop Michael Valva wiped tears from his eyes as a family housekeeper recounted the harrowing last minutes of his 8-year-old son’s life at the pre-trial hearing in his murder case Monday.
But there was a brief moment in the housekeeper’s testimony that almost escaped notice. When Tyrene Rodriguez talked about getting her cleaning supplies in the mudroom, where the family dog Bella stayed, the Suffolk County prosecutor noted, “And that’s a heated room, correct?”
The housekeeper responded, “Yes.”
At the heart of the prosecution case is medical evidence that Thomas Valva died of hypothermia, after being forced to sleep in a freezing garage on a 19-degree winter night, allegedly because he soiled his pajamas. The dog, meanwhile, was sleeping in a heated room on the same floor.
When the housekeeper arrived at the home Valva shared with his then-fiancée Angela Pollina about 9 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2020, she said Pollina was sitting at the kitchen island making out bills.
Then, Tyrene Rodriguez said she heard a child crying. “I asked her who was crying; she said ‘Thomas is. He fell running for the bus.’“
When the housekeeper expressed concern, she said Pollina replied, ‘Yeah, he’ll be okay.’”
Rodriguez testified she started cleaning a small bathroom on the first floor, and then she heard an electronic voice announce the garage door was opening. “And then I looked over my right shoulder, and I saw Mike, Thomas, and Angela,” Rodriguez recalled. “[Thomas] was being, like, escorted between both of them, but he was in front of them.”
(Pool photos: James Carbone/Newsday)
Rodriguez said the group was heading towards the basement stairs as she continued her cleaning. But five or ten minutes later, Rodriguez said an agitated, hysterical Pollina returned to the bathroom and said Thomas wasn’t breathing.
The housekeeper said she raced to the basement and heard a 911 operator telling Valva to do CPR on a hard surface instead of the couch, so the father moved the boy to the floor. “I knelt by Thomas’ head to hold him steady while Mike was compressing his chest,” Rodriguez testified.
When Valva’s defense attorney asked what Angela Pollina was doing, the housekeeper responded, “She was just standing behind us. Just freaking out.”
When the prosecution had a chance to redirect, the housekeeper acknowledged she and Pollina were making small talk at the kitchen island when she first arrived at the house, when she was unaware that anything was wrong. “We shot the breeze,” Rodriguez said, until she heard the boy’s cries.
The housekeeper knew that Thomas was on the autism spectrum.
The prosecutor asked Rodriguez to describe the scene when she got to the basement and saw Thomas on the couch receiving CPR. “He was completely naked,” Rodriguez testified. “He was very blue. His lips were blue.”
The prosecutor asked the housekeeper if Pollina told her that Thomas had defecated on himself and urinated. “I think I heard them say that when I went down in the basement,” Rodriguez testified. “I was wondering why he was naked.”
“He made noises as the air was expelling from his body,” Rodriguez recalled. The housekeeper said when paramedics arrived, “They pulled out those paddles and then they realized there was nothing happening.”
That’s when first responders “put a silver blanket on him” and took Thomas away, Rodriguez said. She recalled that Valva changed his clothes before going into the ambulance for the ride with Thomas to Long Island Community Hospital.
Rodriguez testified that Pollina seemed fine answering police questions at the house. But earlier, neighbor Laura Lauretta testified for the defense that Angela Pollina seemed out of it when she arrived at the emergency room to find Pollina in a cubicle.
“She was laying in the bed,” Lauretta testified. “I said, ‘Angela, what happened, what happened?’ She wasn’t answering. And then the nurse said to me, ‘I gave her something to relax her.’”
“She was groggy, she was sleepy, she was moaning,” Lauretta testified. “Two policemen stepped in and asked me to step out.”
Pollina’s defense attorney, Matt Tuohy, will make a big issue that his client had been sedated with Xanax at the hospital before she was asked to sign a police search form later at the house. “She never gave anyone permission to enter the house,” Tuohy told NEWS10’s sister station outside the New York City court. “They should have gotten a warrant.”
“These are really important issues that permeate the whole case,” Tuohy added.
The prosecution asked Laura Lauretta if Pollina ever texted her to have police leave the house. Lauretta said no.