The father of a 3-year-old boy found dead in a park last year killed the boy in an attempt to please his teenage girlfriend who didn't like children, prosecutors allege.
David Creato Jr. (DJ), 22, faces murder and child endangerment charges in the death of his son, Brendan. The child's body was found Oct. 13 in Cooper River Park about three hours after Creato reported him missing from his Haddon Township home.
At his first court hearing Tuesday, prosecutors said DJ Creato visited dozens of times the area where his son's body was found, even taking a selfie there with his girlfriend just two days before Brendan's death. Prosecutors called the area tough terrain that's muddy and down an uneven rocky road. Despite the conditions, Brendan's socks were clean; making it unlikely he walked to the river.
Brendan had signs of a bruise near his collarbone that led investigators to rule he died by "homicidal violence" by means of exclusion, including possible asphyxia and ligature or manual strangulation, prosecutors said.
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Creato acted in a rage of jealousy, according to the prosecution. Phone records also showed he lied to investigators about his bedtime the night before Brendan went missing -- texting past the time he said.
Prosecutors said Creato's lover told him the weekend before the boy's death that she planned to break things off since Creato had his son every other weekend and remained in touch with the boy's mother.
Creato pleaded not guilty. A judge set bail at $750,000.
Creato's attorney, Richard Fuschino Jr. called the case against his client circumstantial and weak, at best. He said there is little evidence and no witnesses to the crime.
Creato admitted to police that he was jealous and suspicious of his girlfriend in the hours leading up to Brendan's death, said investigators.
When Creato called 911 the morning Brendan went missing, he said he had woken up around 6 a.m. and soon realized the boy was gone.
"I don't know if he wandered out or what happened," Creato told the operator. "I don't know where he is. The door was locked. I guess he unlocked it and left."
The 911 call prompted a townwide search until the boy's body was found.
Creato was arrested Monday in Washington Township, Camden County prosecutors said.
Fuschino claimed that authorities pointed to Creato because pressure was mounting from the public to identify a suspect, and because there were no other obvious clues in the case. He said he worried that the indictment "is the result of just not having any other answers."
In the days after the body was found, Fuschino had said investigators told him his client was not a suspect. He also said Creato spoke to investigators without a lawyer present and had been told police had no suspects.
The indictment accuses Creato of purposely or knowingly causing the child's death or causing serious bodily injury that caused the death.
Brendan's father and his mother, Samantha Denoto, do not live together. She has not spoken publicly about her son's death since a vigil held the day the child's body was found. She said nothing Tuesday as she left the courthouse.
Creato faces 30 years to life in prison if found guilty of murder.