Philadelphia News & Search
Det. Michael Rhoads immediately suspected foul play when 3-year-old Brendan Creato’s body was discovered in Haddon Township woods, but didn’t believe Brendan’s father was a suspect until one to two weeks later, Rhoads testified Thursday.
Yet on the day Brendan was found, investigators kept David “D.J.” Creato Jr. at the township police station for nearly 12 hours — far longer than any other Creato family member. Rhoads, the lead detective for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, questioned Creato three times, each more than an hour, in a windowless room.
“It was accusatory in nature, but I didn’t flat-out say, ‘I believe you killed your son,’ ” Rhoads said in Superior Court in Camden, where Creato — who was later charged with murder — is on trial.
Thursday was the fourth day of testimony (read about the third day here). Jurors also viewed pictures of Brendan’s body from the day he was found, as they heard graphic details about the boy’s condition.
Brendan was slumped over a rock, the left side of his face in a creek, Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah said. His legs and feet were submerged. His arms were bent, his palms up.
Brendan also had silt lines on his face, suggesting the water had receded at some point in the time his body was there.
The jury of 11 women and three men mostly maintained their composure as they saw the pictures. Later Thursday, jurors are expected to visit the spot in the woods where Brendan was found.
Late Thursday morning, the only visible sign of the pending visit were two cones set up in the wooded area.
The walk from the entrance to the park, near the intersection of Saginaw and Vesper Avenues, took less than five minutes. A representative of the prosecutor’s office was present, waiting for the arrival of the jurors.
The setting was quiet. Birds were chirping and leaves rustled as squirrels ran through them. The thin dirt path to the marshy area where Brendan’s body was found was muddy.
Prosecutors say an examination of Brendan’s brain showed an abnormality consistent with oxygen deprivation that can be caused by asphyxiation, drowning, or strangulation — though an exact cause of death was never determined.
Creato called 911 and reported his son missing around 6 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2015. A police dog found Brendan a little before 9 a.m., about three-quarters of a mile from his father’s apartment.
Creato did not yet know about the discovery when he was brought to the Haddon Township police building just before 9:30 a.m. Detectives broke the news to him about 50 minutes later. Creato stayed at the police building until about 9 p.m.
Shah said Creato had access to a lunchroom and the restroom — not just the questioning room — and could leave at any point.
Creato’s attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr., said his client stayed to cooperate with investigators, and provided his phone and DNA when asked.
“He never tried to imply that it made sense to him his son would vanish or leave on his own accord, right?” Fuschino asked Rhoads, who acknowledged that Creato did not.
Investigators believed it was best to keep Creato in the police building in case they had more questions, and to keep him away from the news media, Rhoads said.
Brendan’s mother, Samantha Denoto, also gave an hour-long statement to Rhoads that day. Denoto did not live with Creato.
Prosecutors say Creato killed Brendan to stop his then-17-year-old girlfriend, who disliked children, from leaving him.
Creato’s girlfriend, Julia Stensky, now 19, was away at Pace University in New York City when Brendan died and has not been charged. She and Creato met on the dating app Tinder in June 2015.
The trial is expected to last through May.
Staff writer Ashleigh Albert contributed to this article.
Philadelphia News & Search