MELVILLE, Long Island (WABC) -- The couple from Long Island accused of leaving 8-year-old Thomas Valva in a freezing garage overnight, causing him to die of hypothermia, faced a judge in Riverhead Thursday to be arraigned on second-degree murder charges.
NYPD Officer Michael Valva and Angela Pollina, who each face 25 years to life in prison if convicted, pleaded not guilty and were remanded without bail.
Detectives on the case, as well as supporters of Thomas's mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, packed the courtroom. Crying could be heard throughout the room as prosecutors detailed the abuse allegations. Valva and Pollina kept their gazes at the floor as the allegations were read.
Assistant District Attorney Kerriann Kelly detailed the series of allegations of physical and mental abuse towards Thomas, including throwing him down the stairs, locking him in a bedroom without a bathroom, depriving him of food, beating him with closed fists, and pulling hair from his head.
Kelly looked right at Pollina and Valva as she read from her notes, describing the treatment of Thomas as callous, cruel and evil.
Kelly said Thomas and his older brother Anthony were severely undernourished and would eat food from garbage cans at their school and from under bleachers. She said Valva and Pollina were asked to bring the boys more food but never did.
The teachers would bring food and clothes for the boys, she said.
Kelly said Valva and Pollina would often force Thomas and Anthony to sleep in the unheated garage of their home without blankets or pillows, and that the boys went to school with ice cold hands and cheeks. Thomas would often ask to spend recess indoors because he didn't want to be out in the cold, she said.
On multiple occasions, Pollina allegedly sent Nest camera video clips to Valva while he was at work showing the boys freezing in the garage and begging to use the bathroom.
Kelly said video taken two nights before Thomas died showed Thomas and Anthony sleeping in the garage.
"The two boys sleeping on the garage floor in what appeared to be nothing more than pajamas," she said. "Thomas shivering and shaking and holding himself because he needed to use the bathroom."
Zubko-Valva appeared pale and was crying as she addressed reporters after the arraignments. She said she wants not only Valva and Pollina held responsible in the death of her son, but also the family court judges in Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Suffolk County Department of Social Services who she said did nothing to help her when she had filed countless complaints of the alleged abuse.
"I kept thinking about all the institutions who failed to help him, who completely did absolutely nothing," she said. "Now everybody is trying to do the right thing? But where were you when I begged you for help when you could have saved my child's life?"
Zubko-Valva said she also didn't understand why Valva and Pollina were only charged with second-degree murder.
"It should be first degree murder," she said. "They kept telling me that that's the highest you can go. No, you can go higher. You have to set the standards."
Valva's court-appointed attorney, Robert Del Col, said he understands why the public is outraged by the allegations of abuse that people must allow the criminal justice system to do its job.
"As a human being just listening to what I just heard there was an emotional response, however, the cry for vengeance eventually must succumb to the pursuit of justice," he said.
Del Col said he hadn't yet decided whether he would continue representing Valva, but he said it was an important role.
"A defense attorney in this kind of situation has to be courageous to undertake a representation like this," he said. "But the job is to defend the integrity of the system to make sure it functions in cases where it's very easy and the temptation large to bend the rules in order to see an unjustified or conviction at any cost."
Pollina's attorney, Matt Tuohy, said his client should not be charged with murder.
"I believe the case against her is not strong in regards to a murder by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
Tuohy said many of his client's text messages to Valva were taken out of context by prosecutors.
They are due back in court February 24.
Valva, who joined the NYPD in 2005 and is assigned to transit, has been suspended without pay, the department said.
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Prosecutors detail alleged abuse in 8-year-old Long Island boy's freezing death