On Friday, jurors found 43-year-old Michael Valva guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the death of his son, Thomas, at the family’s home in Long Island. The jury, which deliberated for just one day, also convicted Valva on four other charges, including endangering the welfare of a child.
The verdict came after a five-week trial in which prosecutors presented evidence that Valva had mistreated the boy for years, at times starving the child so severely that he ate crumbs on the ground of his school, according to the New York Post.
The boy’s school principal testified that educators desperately but unsuccessfully sought help from child welfare authorities to intervene at home.
Thomas died on January 17, 2020, after he and his brother, 10-year-old Anthony, who also has autism, were locked in the family’s garage for up to 16 hours. The two brothers were forced into the garage as punishment because they had urinated and defecated in the house.
Just prior to his death, Valva screamed at and hit Thomas.
Thomas’ cause of death was hypothermia — his body temperature was 76 degrees at the time of his death — while Anthony survived.
Medics who responded to the home testified that Valva showed “no emotion, no sense of concern” for Thomas, according to the Post. Valva allegedly claimed that the boy had struck his head on a door frame and that he found him unresponsive.
Valva’s former fiancée, 45-year-old Angela Polina, who lived at the family home at the time of the boy’s death, is also facing charges and is expected to stand trial.
Jo LoTurco, Valva’s lawyer, argued that it was Polina who abused Thomas and prevented Valva from providing his son with a blanked before he died.
“It was clear from all of the evidence, a substantial evidence that she was the dictator of discipline in that household, that she controlled not only Michael but she also had a lover in that household that lived with her,” LoTurco said, according to WABC-TV.
In a written statement, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said Thomas faced unspeakable cruelty and that “no child should ever have to endure such evil acts,” according to the Post.
“This case is heartbreaking, and it has been one of the toughest child abuse trials for our prosecutors, court personnel and jurors,” Tierney said in the written statement, the Post reports. “While there is nothing that we can do to bring Thomas back, we are satisfied with the jury’s decision.”
Valva “subjected his sons to horrific abuse, neglect and cruelty,” Tierney added, according to the Post. “He will now pay for cutting short the life of a young, innocent, defenseless boy who had a lifetime ahead of him.”
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 8. Valva faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
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[Featured image: Thomas Valva/Handout]