Prosecutors in the murder trial of David "D.J." Creato Jr., the South Jersey man charged in the October 2015 killing of his 3-year-old son, Brendan, spent much of Tuesday showing jurors dozens of text and social media messages he exchanged with his girlfriend and others on the day before Brendan's death.
A defense attorney argued that none suggested Creato was plotting murder.
Prosecutors also showed jurors an enlarged image of a heron standing in a woodland stream that was found on Creato's iPhone. A prosecution witness testified that the image was taken on Oct. 11, 2015, close to where Brendan's body was discovered on a rock near the Cooper River a day and a half later.
The witness, digital data analyst Louis Cinquanto, said data on Creato's phone showed the camera's latitude and longitude when the photo was taken, and that it was accurate to within nine feet.
Prosecutors allege that Creato, now 23, murdered Brendan because his then-girlfriend, Julia Stensky, resented the boy's presence in his life and was threatening to break up with him because of it.
On the morning of Oct. 13, 2015, Creato called 911 to report that Brendan was missing from his Haddon Township apartment. The boy's body was found later that day, clothed with no visible injuries. Prosecutors have said the soles of Brendan's socks were unsoiled, suggesting he was carried there.
Although Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Moran did not directly invite jurors Tuesday to infer a link between the murder and the image, Brendan's mother, Samantha Denoto, testified on April 20 that Creato had long described the area where Brendan's body was found as "sacred."
Moran spent much of the morning querying Cinquanto, founder of the Philadelphia firm Cornerstone Discovery, about his expertise as a forensic analyst of smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat, and other digital media.
After lunch, Moran displayed a PowerPoint program on a large screen that identified every phone call and text message Creato and Stensky exchanged on Oct. 12, as well as his visits to her Facebook page and a variety of Snapchat exchanges with friends and calls he made to his parents.
The exchanges revealed Creato as devoted to, but also jealous and possessive of, Stensky. She was then attending Pace University in Manhattan. Throughout the day before Brendan's killing he communicated with her as often as a dozen times an hour, asking such things as her whereabouts, whom she was socializing with, and what she was doing.
"I miss you. Come back," he texted her at 7:29 a.m.
"I miss you too but I have school," she responded within the minute.
"I love you lots," he wrote at 7:39. They then discussed her day's classes and a speech she was giving that afternoon. "I love you a lot too," she wrote at 8:08.
"I just want to hold you," he replied at 8:50. "And cuddle," he wrote two minutes later.
And so it went throughout the day. "No more talking to other guys," he wrote at 9:24 a.m. She told him to "not be so paranoid."
"I don't want to lose you. I'm scared," he wrote back.
Creato spent part of the morning communicating with a male friend about the difficulties he was having with a car, an old Dodge Dart, and the cost of its insurance. Then at 1:18 p.m. he texted Stensky, wanting to know what she had for lunch. "I didn't have lunch. I want you," she wrote back. At 1:44 they discussed going on a camping trip in Pennsylvania on Friday or Saturday, and later about getting the ingredients to bake cookies.
In late afternoon, Creato's mother texted him to ask who had care of Brendan that day; he replied he did. Creato and Denoto did not live together but shared custody of Brendan.
A little past 5 p.m., Stensky asked if he would have Brendan that evening and expressed disappointment that she couldn't Skype or send him streaming live videos "if your kid is there."
Shortly after 7 p.m. he visited her Facebook page several times, Cinquanto said, and then they made numerous short phone calls to one another until about 8:30. Minutes later he texted her to say "Sweet dreams," and at 9:21 told her, "You have pretty eyes."
Cinquanto said there was then a flurry of Snapchat messages from Creato to Stensky, but that their contents were not available. These continued until shortly past 1 a.m. on Oct. 13.
Then, at 6:02 a.m., Creato made a 45-second call to a male friend, and at 6:06 a.m. called 911 to report Brendan missing.
This was followed by another flurry of calls, including to Creato's parents, and a text at 7:08 to Stensky saying, "I had to call for cops at 6 am I'm really scared."
He would say "I'm really scared" in several texts, telling someone at 7:50 a.m. "he disappeared from my apartment overnight." At 8:04 Creato texted a friend saying "They have cops all over, search dogs, can't find him, i've never been so scared in my life."
At 9:39 a.m. Stensky texted Creato to say "I got a call from police detective. He told me Brendan is missing."
At 9:40 she wrote him to ask, "What happened?"
Moran ended his exchange with Cinquanto there.
After recess, Creato's attorney, Richard Fuschino Jr., cross-examined Cinquanto, and asked him if there were other images on Creato's phone. Cinquanto replied that he had worked with a download of data from the phone, not the phone itself, and that prosecutors had only given him the Oct. 11 image of the spot near the Cooper River.
He also established from Cinquanto that the time a text message appears to be sent is not always exact because certain carriers might send them as fragments that are reassembled on arrival.
The trial resumes Wednesday in Superior Court in Camden.