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June 14, 2016

After reviewing evidence, including video, Creato judge sets Oct. 3 trial date

Judge rejects motions to suppress statement and evidence, especially cell and social media

Courts Brendan Creato Case
Creato hearing Thom Carroll//PhillyVoice

Evidence, including video of David "DJ" Creato's questioning by law enforcement on Oct. 13, 2015, the day his missing son's lifeless body was discovered about a half a mile away from their apartment in Haddon Township, Camden County, was reviewed by a judge June 14. Creato is accused of killing his son and is held on $750,000 bail.

A South Jersey Superior Court judge set a trial date of Oct. 3 for David “DJ” Creato, accused of murdering his son to maintain a relationship with his 17-year-old girlfriend, whom he met online.

The case moved ahead during a hearing Tuesday after the judge rejected attempts by the defense to suppress evidence.

During the suppression hearing, a supervisory detective with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, who knew that Brendan had been found dead, was repeatedly heard on tape lying to Creato, saying a search for the boy was ongoing.

Lying to a suspect is permitted during police interrogations, but Creato was not labeled a suspect when he was first brought to the Haddon Township Police Department. He had not been informed of his rights when Capt. William Mahan lied to him over the course of about 45 minutes.

Mahan also repeatedly advised Creato, who was at turns sobbing and collected, to tell him what had happened so as not to carry a burden in the future.

“You don’t just disappear,” said the captain to Creato, adding, “Things like this just don’t happen.”

Much later in the taped interview, Creato, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt, shouted “NO!” repeatedly when told by another detective that his son was dead, and then he stood up and cried.

But he did not ask authorities at that point where his son’s body was found or how he had died.

Mahan was seen only on tape and did not testify at the hearing.

But the lead detective, Michael Rhodes, did take the stand.

Prodded under questioning, Rhodes reluctantly testified that Mahan, who is above him in the chain of command, had indeed lied to Creato.

The judge would not allow Rhodes to conjecturally answer what might have motivated Mahan to lie to Creato.

Rhodes testified he was unaware of Mahan’s actions when he first sat down with Creato, initially to inform him that Brendan had been found dead.

The judge’s finding to not suppress means a raft of evidence will be presented at trial.

That includes Creato’s statement to police on Oct. 13, 2015, and all of his cellphone and text data, as well as the social media accounts he accessed via his phone, such as Facebook and Snapchat, forums used by Creato and then-girlfriend Julia “Julie” Stensky.

Authorities allege Creato was subject to “manipulation” by Stensky, a freshman university student at the time of the toddler’s death.

Communications from Stensky to Creato often were about her anger and frustration due to Brendan, according to authorities.

The trial date set by Judge John T. Kelley is just 10 days less than a year from when the Haddon Township father is alleged to have killed his three-year-old son.

The judge several weeks ago rejected previous motions concerning actions of the medical examiner, who did not go to the scene until five days after the boy’s body was discovered.

The pathologist, Dr. Gerald “Buck” Feigin, has ruled the death of Brendan Creato “homicide by unknown etiology.”

Authorities believe the boy was killed elsewhere, then placed, partially submerged, in a creek about half a mile from the apartment shared by the father and son.

Christine Shah, who is handling the prosecution of the case for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, told the judge a photo was found on Creato’s cell phone of about the same location as where the body was found.

The cellphone picture was taken the evening of Oct. 12, fewer than 12 hours before DJ Creato called 911 to report his son missing from their apartment.

The judge found that Creato was not technically in custody when he made statements to police on Oct. 13, 2015 and also consented to the unfettered search of his cellphone and its data.

Defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino Jr. had argued otherwise, but the judge rejected Fuschino's arguments.

In court, Shah brushed aside the lying by one of her colleagues, saying Creato already knew the fate and location of Brendan because he had killed the boy and “did not need notification.”

Kevin Callahan, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office who sat in court during the hearing, claimed he did not hear Rhodes testify that Mahan had indeed lied to DJ Creato, saying he had sat in the back and could not hear well.

Asked the practice of his office when it comes to lying to individuals who are not considered suspects, Callahan asked to have the question posed in writing.

PhillyVoice did so.

Nearly three hours later, Callahan responded that his office "cannot comment on testimony." He did not respond after being reminded the question was about the practice of his office, not testimony.

Creato remains jailed on $750,000 cash bail.

No one made statements following the hearing, which lasted more than three hours.