Throw Away the Key

While I am a strong supporter of law enforcement, I am often moved with compassion for criminal perpetrators when certain root causes—mental illness, horrific mistreatment from family or peers, or other traumatizing life experiences—have given them little chance to avoid growing into isolated, anti-social, violence-prone individuals. While I know they must be incarcerated to protect public safety, my heart goes out to such troubled souls. I want them treated humanely, and afforded professional interventions designed to help them overcome the torments that have so corrupted their humanity.

But this is not that. Today I am writing about Michael Valva, the NYPD cop about to be sentenced for his part—allegedly along with his live-in fiancée, who faces a separate trial—in the brutal torture of his two autistic little boys, ultimately murdering his eight-year-old son Thomas by forcing him to stay overnight in an unheated garage in 19 degree January weather;  then, after the boy soiled himself because he was denied use of a bathroom, hosing him down, naked, with freezing water from an outdoor spigot!

What came to light after little Thomas died of hypothermia is a tale of such sickening cruelty and brutality, against two helpless, specially challenged little boys, that went on day after day, for years, with no letup, no relief, no mercy, that my reaction, God forgive me, is visceral: 

This man cannot be made to suffer enough.

Consider the level of cruelty inflicted on these boys, as gleaned from reporting of local news outlets, primarily Newsday.   

As Valva engaged in bitter divorce proceedings with his wife, Justyna Zubko-Valva, he obtained custody of his three boys, and moved them in with him to the Center Moriches home of his lover, Angela Pollina, and her three daughters.

But according to Valva’s lawyers, Pollina did not want the boys there, especially given the challenges presented by Anthony and Thomas who, while high functioning, were on the autism spectrum.

She was “a wicked and cruel stepmother” who “despised those autistic children,” while “Michael Valva”—this NYPD cop— “was really meek,” said Valva lawyer John LoTurco. “She controlled the children,” he claimed, and it was she who banished them to the garage in response to their incontinence—which only began, prosecutors determined, after they went to live with their father in that house of horrors. 

One text from Michael Valva to Pollina seemed to support that characterization: “My son is not going to be treated like an outcast anymore. He’s not going to be sleeping on a concrete floor. … I’m not having it anymore.”

She replied: “If you’re not going to have it anymore then you could take him and you could leave. Not a problem. I’m not having him in this house anymore.” With no place else to go, Michael Valva was said to have backed off whenever Pollina threatened to throw him out.

A plumber testified that while doing repair work at the house, he witnessed Michael Valva do nothing as Pollina, screaming at one of the boys, hurled him down a flight of stairs.

Her lawyers, predictably, say Michael Valva is solely responsible for Thomas’ death, and that she was controlled and intimidated by him. And prosecutors presented damning evidence that he was an active, violent abuser of the boys, not just a passive cooperator in her abuse of them.

A day after he beat one of his sons, prosecutors said, he responded to her complaint about another toilet accident by texting, “OK, I’ll beat them up again. Talking doesn’t work, maybe a bloody face will.” Another time, he messaged her, “When I come home, I’m going to beat them with belts.” Footage from ubiquitous video cameras Pollina had set up throughout the house showed Valva pummeling one the boys with a closed fist. And verbal abuse from their father was constant, even the morning Thomas died.

School personnel testified that when the boys first entered their elementary school (after their father moved them into Pollina’s home) they were healthy and happy. But their conditions deteriorated badly: they became emaciated, scrounged for food in cafeteria garbage cans, often arrived at school in soiled clothing, and were at times beaten and bruised—so severely, in one instance, that officials had to ice down 10-year-old Anthony’s buttocks and upper thighs.  

Why would a father who allowed or inflicted such abuse on his sons have engaged in a contentious custody battle for them? The prosecution concurred with Pollina’s assessment: Michael Valva only wanted custody to hurt his ex-wife, who loved them and wanted them, and to avoid having to pay her child support if she gained custody.

While the evidence of his violent abuse of his sons seems clear—and was clear to the jury—it shouldn’t really matter whether he committed the abuse himself or simply stood by while his live-in lover abused them. Any adult living in such a situation who cooperates, actively or passively, in such unconscionable torture of defenseless children—and clearly Michael Valva did both—should be held equally guilty, and punished as harshly. And the same should go for Pollina, depending on the evidence and outcome of her trial in February.

Michael Valva has been found guilty of second degree murder. When Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge William Condon sentences him this Thursday, he should give him the maximum sentence: 25 years to life in prison. Throw the book at him, and throw away the key!

And Michael Valva, if he has any sense of the eternal judgment that awaits him, should welcome, with prayer and penitence, whatever earthly suffering God, in His infinite mercy, might allow as reparation; lest he otherwise risk eternal torment for his inhuman treatment of God’s precious children.  

There is also the issue of ongoing failure by people in authority—police and prosecutors, judges, social services personnel—to respond to repeated pleas for action from the boys’ mother as well as school personnel. And underlying it all, the question of what role Michael Valva’s being a cop played in shielding him from scrutiny and denying his abused children protection.  

I will deal with that in my next post. 

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

2 thoughts on “Throw Away the Key

  1. What a horrific story! A serious effort must be made to determine how authorities ignored the mother’s and school complaints.
    Another thought I have is how merciless is our society in allowing babies in the womb to be painfully murdered while “good” Catholics vote for abortion politicians and bishops give half-hearted support to protect these precious lives.


    1. Thank you, Walter. Yes, as indicated, I will have more to say about the culpability of those in authority who could have protected those boys and didn’t.

      Some will scoff at your relating this horror to the horror of abortion. But the reduction of children to the status of disposable possessions is a central feature of the abortion mentality, and clearly for some, does not stop there. And dehumanizing children with special needs is a well-established tactic to justify targeting such children for abortion and infanticide. Can we be surprised then, when such dehumanization is applied to disabled children who somehow do manage to be born?


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