Ten of 12 jurors believed prosecutors had proven that David "D.J." Creato Jr. killed his 3-year-old son, Brendan, but the remaining jurors didn't think there was enough evidence — leading to last week's mistrial — according to four jurors who spoke to the Inquirer and Daily News.
"It was our job to look at what was there and find some justice for this baby, for this family, and we didn't do it," said one juror, a 53-year-old Audubon mother of four grown children who concluded that Creato was guilty in his son's 2015 death. "I just don't feel justice was served."
Superior Court in Camden County provided a list of the jurors late Tuesday. The four who spoke to a reporter voted for guilty. Three asked not to be identified, citing intense debate about the case on social media and concern that they could be harassed or targeted. The fourth preferred to stay unnamed because she said she did not want to bring unwanted attention to the school where she works.
Of the two jurors who decided that not enough evidence existed to convict Creato, one did not return a request for comment Wednesday. Attempts to locate the other were unsuccessful.
The jurors who did speak said they that tried to put their emotions aside, and that inconsistencies in Creato's story led them to believe he was guilty. They questioned why Creato told detectives he had fallen asleep around 10 p.m. and hadn't awakened until 6 a.m. the next day, even though records show he was on his phone around 1:30 a.m.
The jurors also concluded that only Creato could have placed Brendan deep in the Haddon Township woods where the boy's body was found on Oct. 13, 2015. Creato regularly visited the woods near South Park Drive and Cooper Street, sometimes at night.
"We really felt he was guilty," said one juror, the mother of an 18-year-old girl.
"I felt like I had to be the voice of that child. I think we all did," the juror said, referring to Brendan. "We couldn't believe that it was a hung jury. We were very frustrated."
She said Creato, who called 911 to report Brendan missing, saying he woke up and the boy was gone, appeared rehearsed when detectives told him Brendan was dead.
"It was like, on cue, he did this: 'No-no-no-no,'" the juror said, recalling when Creato screamed "Oh God, no, no, no!" The juror said she thought Creato quickly shut down his emotions when detectives interviewed him minutes later. "It was on and off, like an on-and-off switch with him."
Another juror, a 26-year-old Lindenwold woman, said she could not see her 2-year-old son walking alone to the woods where Brendan was found, especially at night.
"Me trying to imagine my son taking that walk, he would never make it. It would never be possible," she said, recalling that Brendan was discovered three-quarters of a mile from his father's Haddon Township apartment, and was reported to have disappeared at night.
The jury started with 11 women and three men, before two of the women were selected as alternates, leaving the remaining jurors to deliberate. Most of the jurors have children, either young or adult.
When deliberations started, according to the jurors' accounts, nine jurors believed Creato, 23, was guilty. One was undecided, but soon switched to guilty, and two said he was not guilty. The last two wanted direct evidence, not just the circumstantial evidence on which the prosecution's case relied.
"They wished that there was more direct evidence, actual 100 percent proof," such as video surveillance or witnesses to implicate Creato, said one juror, a 33-year-old Audubon woman who has a 10-year-old daughter. "But that's not what we were given."
Three medical examiners ruled Brendan had died of "homicidal violence" but could not determine whether drowning, strangulation, or smothering — each of which can deprive the brain of oxygen — caused Brendan's death.
Prosecutors argued that Creato killed Brendan to prevent his girlfriend, who demanded she be Creato's No. 1 priority, from leaving him. The girlfriend, Julia Stensky, 19, was in New York City when Brendan died and was not charged.
Several jurors said they were on the fence about Creato's guilt until Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah laid out the timeline and the allegations during a lengthy closing statement. Creato's attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr., called his client the victim of a flawed police investigation.
The jury spent at least three days deliberating. Heated debate unfolded the last two days, when jurors repeatedly went over evidence, including Creato's phone activity, and ruled out other possibilities, such as a random person kidnapping and killing Brendan.
"It was very stressful, very heated," the Audubon mother of four children said. "The majority of us felt very passionate about it. We were very convinced."
Three times during deliberations, the jury watched video of Creato speaking to detectives the day of his son's death. The 10 jurors who believed he was guilty hoped it would convince the remaining two jurors of the same.
But the two jurors couldn't be swayed.
After Judge John T. Kelley declared a mistrial last Wednesday, several jurors cried behind closed doors.
The Audubon mother of four children said her 4-year-old nephew came to mind when she saw photos of Brendan's pajama-clad body slumped over a rock and partially submerged in a creek. Two police officers, following a dog that tracked Brendan's scent, found him there.
"I just kept picturing my nephew in that spot," she said, calling it "heartbreaking."
The Camden County Prosecutor's Office has said it plans to retry the case. The office declined to comment Wednesday. Fuschino did not return calls.