January 12, 2016
David "DJ" Creato Jr., the father accused in the death of his 3-year-old son in Haddon Township, was formally charged with murder during an arraignment on Tuesday.
Creato's bail was set at $750,000 by Superior Court Judge Edward J. McBride Jr. after a Camden County prosecutor laid out a detailed – but circumstantial – case against him during an arraignment hearing at the Camden County Hall of Justice that came just one day shy of the three-month anniversary of Brendan Link Creato's death.
Richard J. Fuschino Jr., the Philadelphia lawyer who represents DJ Creato, had asked for bail of $250,000, while prosecutors were seeking $1 million bail. McBride lowered it to $750,000 bail or bond because Creato has no previous criminal history and he agreed with the argument that Creato had already had ample opportunity to flee – and had not done so.
DJ Creato remains jailed, having not posted bail.
Creato was ordered to surrender his passport, remain in New Jersey and avoid any contact with his former girlfriend, Samantha Denoto, the mother of Brendan, should he ever make bail.
She and her family filled the front row of the packed courtroom, which holds about 70 people.
A grand jury indicted Creato Monday on charges of first-degree murder and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.
On Tuesday, prosecutor Christine Shah alleged that DJ Creato killed his son because he was trying to maintain an intimate relationship with New York college student Julia "Julie" Spensky, 17, who lives in Bucks County, who was characterized by Shah as having a "strong dislike" and "disdain" of children.
Creato also suspected his girlfriend, whom he met in June through Tinder, was starting a relationship with another man at a college and was "jealous," Shah alleged.
She said the pair had exchanged 9,480 texts since they began dating in June.
Shah said Brendan had spent Saturday and Sunday with Lisa Creato, his grandmother, after Spensky and DJ Creato fought on the Friday night before Brendan died. Spensky had come home from college for the weekend.
DJ Creato put Spensky on a train to New York Monday morning and she did not return to New Jersey until Tuesday afternoon, according to Shah, meaning she was not present when Brendan Creato died. Her lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
Shah called Spensky "hateful" and "discontent."
Spensky, who had come to New Jersey on Monday, the day DJ Creato was indicted, was "not cooperative," according to Shah.
Medical examinations into the cause of the toddler's death concluded Brendan died of "homicidal violence of undetermined etiology" that might have involved drowning, asphyxiation or manual strangulation, Shah said. She said the autopsy was signed off on back on Dec. 15, but she offered no explanation for a delay in taking action based on the finding.
She admitted the only indications in the autopsy was the findings in a region of Brendan's brain that showed evidence of a lack of oxygen.
The prosecutor said microscopic examinations – used to find tiny fibers in the nose and mouth inhaled while being smothered – yielded no findings.
A small bruise on the boy's collarbone that was missed during the first examination by Camden County's medical examiner, Dr. Gerald "Buck" Feigin, was discovered during a subsequent examination by another pathologist, Dr. Charles Siebert.
Siebert also found that while there was not an obvious cause of death, Brendan Creato's death was "not natural," Shah said.
Siebert was forced out as a medical examiner in Florida in 2007 after his opinions came into question. Shah did not disclose Siebert's background in court.
Similarly, Feigin was forced out as medical examiner in 1997 after making a wrong call in the so-called "Boston Nanny" case.
A spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office did not respond to a request for comment. The office said previously it could not comment under conduct rules.
Brendan Creato was found wearing clean pajamas and socks, evidence that he did not walk a half mile in the dark to the leaf-strewn, muddy and damp location by the Cooper River, where his body was found, Shah said.
She said the boy was "partially" in the water, though she provided no details of precisely what that means.
A source has said the boy's skin exhibited the pruning known as "washerwoman's skin." The wrinkly skin develops due to prolonged dampness or submersion. The pruning's severity depends on temperature and length of exposure. Prolonged exposure of skin to water can lead to irreversible wrinkling, which would potentially provide a timeline for how long Brendan's body was there before it was discovered.
Shah did not mention the condition of the child's skin. A spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office did not respond to a request for comment on the wrinkling.
"We know with certainty that he did not get to that location on his own power," Shah said in court.
The location where Brendan's body was found is DJ Creato's favorite spot in Haddon Township, Shah said, adding he once referred to the place as "spiritual to him." He allegedly visited that place – a difficult place to navigate in the dark, according to Shah – 20 or 30 times with his girlfriend.
He took a cellphone photo of the spot in the days before Brendan died.
Shah also noted that investigators found no signs of forced entry at DJ Creato's apartment, which the father told investigators had been locked. DJ and Brendan Creato were the only people in the apartment the night before Brendan's body was found.
DJ Creato's bedroom was a mere nine feet from the couch on which Brendan slept in his apartment, Shah said, alleging he likely would have heard any intruder in the apartment.
She called the case "obviously circumstantial, but quite compelling."
DJ Creato faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison for the first-degree murder charge. The maximum sentence in New Jersey is life imprisonment.
He was taken into custody at about 2:15 p.m. Monday in Washington Township. There has been no explanation for why he was there.
DJ Creato had claimed in a 6 a.m. call to police on Oct. 13 that his son had let himself out of their small apartment in the Westmont section of the township.
That call touched off a large-scale search of the neighborhood, which ended three hours later when a police K-9 discovered the boy’s lifeless body in the woods of Cooper River Park, near a stream that flows into the river.
Law enforcement attention immediately focused on DJ Creato. In the hours right after Brendan's body was found, DJ Creato was taken to Haddon Township police headquarters around 10 a.m. and questioned until about 9 p.m. Brendan was in his father's custody leading up to the reported disappearance.
Following the hearing, the lawyer for Brendan's grandparents, David and Lisa Creato, said they had just learned what the state alleges in court and were still absorbing it. In court, Lisa Creato sunk her head, cradling it in both palms, crying.
"They had no idea about 99 percent" of what they heard, said attorney William J. Brennan. He also said the couple loves and supports their son, and loved their grandson.
Fuschino told assembled reporters that "circumstantial" is an apt description of the state's case, which he called "weak."
He also said his client is "heartbroken" and said a "long hard road" is ahead.
In court, he said his client was not smart enough to harm his child, but leave no clear physical evidence of having done so. He also said his client had been upfront with police concerning his issues with his girlfriend.
He declined to answer who had keys and access to the apartment other than his client.
PhillyVoice staffwriter John Kopp contributed to this report.