May 31, 2017
Social media, an integral part of the David "DJ" Creato murder case with thousands of messages exchanged between the accused and his then-girlfriend, is abuzz over the murder trial – at least locally.
Two Facebook discussion groups have formed since the start of the trial, dissecting the case – and its participants.
The administrator of one group, #creato, with 132 members, declined to discuss her group. But the other, Creato Trial Discussion, has 600 members and two administrators. The group is largely from Haddon Township. Three-year-old Brendan had lived with his father, David “DJ” Creato, in an apartment in the Westmont section of the township.
Creato is charged with the first-degree murder of his son in October 2015. He also faces a charge of second-degree child endangerment. The jury late Tuesday told the judge it was having trouble reaching a decision. Judge John T. Kelley told the panel to try again Wednesday.
The prosecution has alleged Creato killed his son, Brendan, to maintain a shaky relationship with his then-girlfriend, Julia “Julie” Stensky.
Creato has been on trial since April 20. The trial discussion group was begun on May 3 and has continued to grow, doubling in size in the past week.
Wednesday will be the jury's third full day of deliberations, and the panel's pace is the newest source of speculation among members of the group, as was the news that deliberations had stalled.
Creato Trial Discussion features live streaming and archives from several news sources, often with running commentary.
At various times, the Facebook group has called the lawyers on both sides “lackluster,” praised the closing delivered by Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah, excoriated the work of medical examiner Dr. Gerald Feigin, tsk-tsked Stensky and second-guessed both the prosecution and the defense.
“People at work were tired of hearing me talk about it, so I started a group where we could talk about it. But I didn’t expect it to take off.” – Alicia McHugh, founder of Creato Discussion Group
Amy Paratore, one of the admins of the closed group, which means membership must be approved, is even planning to hold a face-to-face meetup on Monday at Tom Fischer’s, a popular bar in Westmont.
Paratore, who has a child about Brendan’s age and lives in a nearby town, said there are still a lot of unsettled feelings about the case in the area. She pointed to being blocked on Facebook after posting on another site about the case.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I would not want to be on the jury,” she said.
Law professor JC Lore called forming social media groups to discuss a criminal proceeding “pretty unique.”
The Rutgers University-Camden professor said lawyers routinely tell clients, witnesses and family members “not to post or follow anything on social media,” but he said such groups generally have no real influence on criminal proceedings.
Creato Discussion Group founder Alicia McHugh, who grew up near Westmont, started the group because as a mother she is concerned about crimes against children.
And she admits she was “intrigued” by cameras providing live coverage.
“People at work were tired of hearing me talk about it, so I started a group where we could talk about it,” she explained. “But I didn’t expect it to take off.”
Her goal, largely met, was to keep the discussions civil – a concern because she knows friends and members of the Creato and Denoto families belong to the group.
“My heart breaks for them,” she said, but she added there have been a few instances of posts “going off the rails.” But she said there’s a firm bar set, and lots of policing by the group.
There have even been polls featured since early on about the anticipated verdict.
There is general and consistent agreement among members of the group that Creato stands a strong likelihood of conviction on the endangerment charge, McHugh said.
But a conviction on the murder charge seems more fluid, depending on the evidence and where things stand with the jury, she added.
Initially, the thought was that a hung jury was likely on the homicide charge, shifting over time toward guilty. But with the jury rehearing testimony for the third day, she said the group feeling is once again “weighing heavily” that the finding could be a mistrial, with no agreement on convicting – or exonerating – Creato.
Kevin Gaines, who calls himself a “legal hobbyist,” said he has a personal feeling about the case – guilty – which he has followed closely on the discussion group.
But he said the lack of physical evidence in the case seems to be making that difficult.
“That’s where the endangerment charge comes in. It’s a failsafe,” said Gaines, who grew up in Oaklyn, one town over from Haddon Township.
“It seems like a responsible jury,” he said.
McHugh said the stalled deliberations are "disheartening," though anticipated by the group.
"It is discouraging to know that such a tremendous amount of resources have been utilized and a verdict appears unlikely," she said. "Just as the crime itself has had a ripple effect on the community, I feel a deadlocked jury comes as an aftershock.
"There are just too many questions left unanswered."