November 06, 2015
Lawyers for the father and grandparents of toddler Brendan Creato sharply criticized the investigation led by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office into the unsolved case of how the South Jersey boy died.
Speaking jointly during a 90-minute interview with PhillyVoice, both lawyers suggested investigators' deep focus on their clients may have delayed a wider – and more productive – investigation if only done sooner, said the lawyers, William J. Brennan and Richard J. Fuschino Jr.
Brennan, who represents the grandparents, David and Lisa Creato, and Fuschino, the lawyer for Brendan's father, David “DJ” Creato, all of the Westmont section of Haddon Township, pointed specifically to the delay of about three weeks in intensively combing the woods where the toddler’s body was found at around 9 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 13.
Additionally, Brennan on Thursday alleged an assistant county prosecutor, Christine Shah, assigned to the homicide unit, had lied to him about keeping his clients – who he described as “grieving grandparents” – informed.
“I don’t know if it is that they are just rude, they are unprofessional or it is just amateur hour over there,” Brennan said.
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond Friday to a request for comment about the lawyers' criticism of the handling of the case.
The lawyer said his clients have been “completely cooperative” with investigators.
He said Shah had assured him she would let him know the results of a toxicology screen, done as part of still-inconclusive autopsy on the little boy’s body.
He also said Shah had assured him that he and the grandparents would not learn of the toxicology report results through media accounts.
“I’m completely puzzled why they would not show us this common courtesy,” said Brennan.
PhillyVoice and other media reported on Monday that the toxicology results were negative, showing no signs of ingested drugs or other anomalies in blood and urine samples.
Brennan was informed about the results by Fuschino, who learned of them after fielding reporters' calls, according to the lawyer.
And Fuschino had to call Shah to confirm the results were negative. The prosecutor's office has not commented on the toxicology screen.
Brendan Creato’s lifeless body was discovered in the woods of Cooper River Park a half mile from the apartment he shared with his father on the morning of Oct. 13, around 9 a.m.
DJ Creato told his lawyer that Brendan spent time with his grandparents on the evening of Oct. 12.
DJ Creato shared custody of the boy with the child’s mother, Samantha Denoto, who lives elsewhere, but the boy was in the care of the Creatos on Oct. 12.
Brendan got a bath and dressed in pajamas at the grandparents' home, and then, accompanied by Lisa Creato, went the two blocks to her son’s apartment at around 8:30 p.m., according to Fuschino.
“The pressure of the community is building, And [authorities] are unable to let us know – and the people know – if there is foul play.” – Richard J. Fuschino Jr., lawyer for David "DJ" Creato
Lisa Creato let herself into the second-floor apartment, which has a door with two locks. There is an outside entry door, which also has a lock. It leads to a flight of steps that ascend to the apartment.
Brennan said he does not know how many people, besides Lisa Creato, have keys to the apartment.
Fuschino said the boy's father believes the two locks on the entry door to the apartment were locked, as locking the door was his habit. Fuschino said he was unsure if the downstairs door also was secured.
He said he also does not know if Brendan Creato had ever let himself out of the apartment.
One of the few things the prosecutor’s office has said is that there were no signs of a forced break-in at the apartment.
The father told his lawyer that he and Brendan read three books together, ate a bowl of chips and he last saw his son at about 10 p.m. on the night of Oct. 12
DJ Creato noticed his son was missing when he got up to use the bathroom just before 6 a.m., Fuschino said.
DJ Creato called his mom. Then, heeding her advice, he called Haddon Township police, according to the lawyer.
DJ Creato was already on the phone with a dispatcher when his mother arrived at his apartment a few minutes later. Her voice can be heard in the background on the 911 tape.
Some have questioned DJ Creato’s even tone on the taped call to police.
Fuschino said his client did not immediately “think the worst” had happened to his son, and DJ Creato was simply trying to “get information to authorities as quickly as possible.”
A neighborhood search began, as did automated alert calls. Fuschino said he does not know if his client remained in the apartment, or joined the search outside.
Later, DJ Creato was asked to come to the Haddon Township police station, where he was interviewed for the entire day and into the evening, according to Fuschino.
And even though a police dog located his son’s body by about 9 a.m., it was not until late morning that police informed DJ Creato that his son had been found dead, according to Fuschino, who said he came to represent DJ Creato through a phone call from a relative of his client.
Fuschino said he went to the Haddon Township police station and asked to see his client on the day the child was found dead, but that never happened, he said.
But Fuschino said a township detective, as well as prosecutor Shah, assured him that day that his client was not a suspect.
DJ Creato’s apartment was searched while he was at the police station voluntarily answering questions, said Fuschino.
So was the home of David and Lisa Creato, according to Brennan.
All of the Creatos voluntarily submitted DNA samples, according to their lawyers.
DJ Creato visited Fuschino’s Philadelphia law office on Oct. 14. “He looked like a guy who was devastated, exhausted,” the lawyer said.
While Fuschino initially represented the entire Creato family, he soon reached out to Brennan, a longtime friend and colleague, to represent the grandparents’ interests.
Based on his client’s explanation about the questions asked by investigators, Fuschino believes the child may not have had on the pajamas he was last seen wearing when his body was discovered in the woods.
The prosecutor’s office has never said how the child was dressed when a police dog found his body in the woods of Cooper River Park.
Fuschino said it was “shocking” that he learned from PhillyVoice – not authorities – about an older man pushing a baby carriage in the vicinity of the woods on the morning the boy’s body was discovered.
And he was also concerned that he learned only through PhillyVoice that an abandoned baby carriage reportedly was discovered at a vacant house in the Westmont neighborhood of Haddon Township, not far from the Creatos. Several Westmont residents say they have been questioned about the coach by authorities, who have not disclosed anything.
“It is bizarre that they would not tell the community about that,” he said.
Both lawyers said the prosecutor’s office has declined to say precisely what substances were screened for in the toxicology review. A standard screening would not show many potentially lethal substances and drugs.
Each toxicology test, which is ordered by a medical examiner, not a prosecutor, must be done with an eye toward possible causes of death, testing for specific substances that go beyond a standard tox screen.
Both lawyers expressed concerns that the investigative focus on their clients, as they perceive it, may have skewed the case, which is ongoing nearly a month after Brendan Creato was found dead.
“Maybe they are not getting answers because, had they looked (at the woods) and pounded the streets earlier,” the investigation may have turned up new leads, Fuschino said.
“Criminal cases don’t get better over time,” he said.
“There can be no worse thing than when you have a child that disappears and is discovered dead,” said Fuschino. “The family and community turns to police (and the prosecutor)” for answers, he added. “When they won’t so much as give a courtesy call to the family or their lawyer that the toxicology report is back and that it is negative, it makes me very concerned.”
“The pressure of the community is building," Fuschino added. "And they are unable to let us know – and the people know – if there is foul play.”
So far authorities have not been able to even say if Brendan Creato died from some natural cause or at the hands of a killer. That makes him worry, Fuschino said.
“As the pressure from the community mounts, I am worried that they are looking for someone to put this on,” Fuschino said.
That someone, he worries, is his client.