The case of a Haddon Township father charged with killing his 3-year-old son is headed to trial, a judge said Tuesday after a hearing in which prosecutors played video of David "D.J." Creato Jr.'s initial interview with detectives, which showed him weeping as they told him his son, Brendan, was dead.
"Oh, God, no, no, no!" Creato, 22, yelled inside the small, windowless questioning room of Haddon Township's police building that morning, Oct. 13, several hours after Creato had called 911 to report his son missing.
Creato, in the video, then stood up crying, and said about Brendan: "My best friend. I love him so much."
Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah had one word in court Tuesday for Creato's reaction: rehearsed.
"He knew what was coming," she said.
Judge John T. Kelley had asked to see the recording after Creato's attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr., filed a motion to block prosecutors from using the interview as evidence. Fuschino argued that investigators misled Creato and never told him he was a suspect.
Kelley, after reviewing the video, said Creato was cooperative and seemed "anxious" to speak. He ruled the interview admissible for the trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 3.
Creato appeared in shackles and a red jumpsuit, and displayed little emotion as he watched himself on a big-screen TV that played the recorded interview, revealing his demeanor on camera for the first time.
He entered the questioning room at 9:26 a.m., more than a half-hour after a K-9 unit discovered Brendan's body - though authorities had not yet told Creato that. That happened at 10:17.
In the 51 minutes in between, Creato asked Capt. Willie Mahan of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office if Brendan had been found, and Mahan - who knew of the discovery - said no.
Mahan walked in and out of the room several times, and at one point said children don't just disappear and asked Creato if he was withholding anything.
Creato said that he was the one who called police to report Brendan missing, and that he was telling detectives everything he knew.
"I will give you every piece of information I have," Creato said. "There's nothing I haven't told you."
At another point, Creato told Haddon Township Police Detective Don Quinn, "So much time has passed," and then began crying. Quinn walked up to comfort Creato and said, "Listen, we are working diligently."
After Quinn and Camden County Prosecutor's Office Detective Michael Rhoads told Creato his son was found by a creek, Creato asked if the boy had drowned.
Creato then told the investigators he had read Brendan three children's books, including Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle, the previous night, and put Brendan to sleep on the living-room couch just before 9 p.m. Creato said he slept in the sole bedroom of the second-floor unit near Cooper Street and Virginia Avenue.
He said he awoke just before 6 a.m. the next day to use the bathroom and found Brendan missing. He said he searched the apartment for a few minutes, and then called his mother and 911.
Creato said he screamed Brendan's name on the streets - other residents, alerted by a reverse 911 call, yelled it as well - before authorities asked him to come in and speak to them.
Brendan was found slumped over a rock, half his body submerged in creek water, at 8:43 a.m. that day. He was wearing sports pajamas.
Rhoads, who testified in court Tuesday, said it was challenging to find that spot in the woods, which requires walking downhill on a narrow trail hidden from the nearest street corner, Cooper and South Park Drive.
"If you didn't know where you were going, you would need directions," he said.
Brendan's mother, Samantha Denoto, did not live with Creato. She sat through the hearing Tuesday but declined to comment afterward. Creato's parents, David Sr. and Lisa, sat on the opposite side of the courtroom and also declined to comment later.
Prosecutors have alleged that Creato killed Brendan to stop his 17-year-old girlfriend, who disliked children, from leaving him. She was at Pace University in New York City, where she is a student, when Brendan died, authorities said.
In his interview with detectives the day his son was found, Creato said his girlfriend did not like that he had a child with another woman, and that they broke up several times after quarreling about it.
"She doesn't want anything to do with him, or ever be around him," Creato said.
Creato said he told his girlfriend, "He's always going to be a part of my life. If you can't accept it, then you're going to have to move on."
Creato also said he was jealous of another man with whom the teenager was speaking. Her attorney, Joseph Sorrentino of New York, did not return a call Tuesday.
Prosecutors have said that Brendan died of "homicidal violence," and that an examination of his brain showed an abnormality consistent with oxygen deprivation that can be caused by asphyxiation, drowning, or strangulation.
An exact cause of death was never determined.
Fuschino lost a bid in court May 16 to have the indictment dismissed, after Kelley said there was nothing to indicate the medical examiner in the case misled a grand jury.
Fuschino, in that hearing, called Camden County Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin a "disgrace," and said Feigin should have inspected the wooded area where Brendan's body was found on the day of the discovery, not five days later. Shah, the assistant prosecutor, said Feigin followed the law and did nothing wrong.
A grand jury in January indicted Creato on charges of murder and endangering the welfare of a child. He remains at the Camden County Jail with bail set at $750,000.