Tragic hypothermia victim Thomas Valva needed warmth more than love — still, the woman who allegedly did nothing as the boy was locked in a freezing-cold garage “loved” him, her lawyer insisted.
Matthew Tuohy, who represents Angela Pollina — the boy’s would-be stepmom — said Saturday she maintained her innocence in the 8-year-old’s murder.
The boy is the son of NYPD cop Michael Valva, who lived with Pollina in Center Moriches, Long Island, with his three sons and her three daughters.
The father has been stripped of his gun and suspended without pay; both adults are in jail and charged with second-degree murder.
“She loved this child,” Tuohy said of his client’s relationship with her would-be stepson.
On the surface, the “Brady Bunch”-like couple had a charmed life, living with Valva’s three sons and Pollina’s three daughters in a four-bedroom, 2.5-bath Long Island house.
But little Thomas Valva’s death revealed the apparently sinister abuse he and his brother, Anthony, suffered while inside, prosecutors claim.
The pair are accused of repeatedly punishing the boys by denying them food and forcing them to sleep on the concrete floor of the unfinished garage. Educators reported Anthony coming to school in clothes “soaked with urine.”
Neighbors sensed something was off.
“They seemed like regular people, but, you know, I always thought it was odd, you never saw the kids playing over there. That doesn’t seem normal,” Robert Friedlicher, 55, said.
Another neighbor, Paul Hawkins, 47, claimed Pollina was “gruff” with her own daughters, noting she “always seemed on edge. The way she would yell at the girls when it was time to come in, it wasn’t the way regular parents call their kids in. She was gruff and short with the girls.”
But Tuohy insisted his client was a loving parent figure.
“She is not a part of him tragically passing away,” Tuohy said of Pollina.
“She is innocent. She happens to live at the house with the boy. I know that she had a very good relationship with him. I know that her family loved the boy very much and they were very kind to him.”
Tuohy, who spoke at the home of Pollina’s parents in Franklin Square, Long Island, would not discuss the circumstances surrounding the boy’s alleged murder.
“I don’t want to make any comments about that,” the lawyer said. ”It’s too early in the case except that she mourns his passing and she is saying she is innocent and I believe her,” he said.
“It’s just speculation and conjecture at this point. I mean, you know, to say that she is the cause of his death, you know, it’s not true.”
Valva and Pollina were arrested Friday in the Jan. 17 death of Thomas at the family’s Bittersweet Lane home — where Thomas had allegedly been exiled to the unfinished garage on a night when temperatures plummeted to 19 degrees, police said.
It’s unclear what the boy was being punished for that night. The next morning, the couple taunted Thomas for being cold as he began stumbling and “face-planting,” prosecutors said.
Valva called cops, claiming his son had fallen in the driveway while waiting for the school bus and lost consciousness.
The boy’s body temperature was just 76 degrees when he was brought to Long Island Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Pollina’s daughters were reeling, a relative claimed. Cops quickly determined Thomas hadn’t been in the driveway.
“I’m helping my nieces with their grief,” Pollina’s sister, Lucia, told The Post.
Earlier Saturday, the dead boy’s biological mother took to Twitter for the first time since the tragedy, posting pictures of her kids in happier times.
Justyna Zubko-Valva, 36 — a Rikers Island correction officer who lost custody of her three sons to Michael in 2017 — thanked the public for an outpouring of condolences.
“I am still extremely heartbroken, and devastated over the cruel and tragic death of my little angel Thomas that could have been preventable,” she wrote.
Zubko-Valva added pictures of Thomas and his brothers, including one snap of her kissing the doomed boy along with the note, “Rest peacefully in heaven my sweet little angel.”
The Nassau County judge overseeing the Valvas’ contentious 2016 divorce had awarded the father custody, according to court documents, after a raft of abuse allegations against Zubko-Valva, including excessive corporal punishment.
Zubko-Valva denied the claims and during an October 2018 Suffolk County Family Court hearing on the allegations against her, to sound an alarm about her ex.
“They are in extreme danger of their lives,” Zubko-Valva told a judge, according to a transcript.
The mother told the judge her children were losing weight and suddenly, at ages 8 and 9, wearing diapers.
“They keep regressing in their development, they are not getting food, going to school hungry,” the mom lamented.
Family Court Judge Bernard Cheng ordered an investigation at the time and by April issued a decision dismissing claims of neglect against Zubko-Valva.
Suffolk County child welfare authorities investigated Valva and Pollina and said they’re reviewing their handling of the case.
Additional reporting by Ben Cohn, Ben Feuerherd, Daniel Cassady and Susan Edelman
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