Prosecutors on Tuesday said David "D.J." Creato Jr. likely smothered his sleeping 3-year-old son with a pillow and then dumped the boy's body in Haddon Township woods.
Creato's attorney portrayed his client as the victim of a flawed police investigation, and suggested someone else is responsible for Brendan Creato's death.
Both sides sought to convince jurors in lengthy closing statements in Superior Court in Camden on the eleventh day of the trial.
Prosecutors say Creato, 23, killed Brendan to stop his girlfriend, who disliked being around the boy, from leaving him. The girlfriend, Julia Stensky, 19, was in New York City when Brendan died and has not been charged.
Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah said Creato had the means, opportunity, and motive to commit murder.
"He is not the victim in this case. He is the killer," Shah told jurors. Creato, who has been stoic most of the trial, shook his head in disagreement.
In her two-and-a-half-hour closing statement, Shah pointed out that Creato initially defended Brendan, particularly when Stensky called the boy a "mistake," but later told Stensky he would do anything for her.
"I'm willing to do anything or change anything for you," Creato texted Stensky a week before Brendan died.
Shah called Stensky "a nasty girl" but said Creato is the one with motive.
"He was desperate to stay with her," Shah said.
Shah, saying Creato was upset that Stensky wasn't responding to his calls or text messages the night Brendan was last seen alive, presented a scenario in which Creato walked to the living room where Brendan was sleeping on a couch and stuck a pillow over his face.
"He held it there until Brendan died," Shah said.
She said only Creato would have known to then take Brendan's body to the woods, to what Creato later described as his favorite spot — one he regularly visited — and carefully place the boy's pajama-clad, shoeless body on a rock.
"He could probably get down there blindfolded," Shah said of Creato, whose apartment was three-quarters of a mile from where Brendan was found.
Creato called 911 and reported Brendan missing, saying he woke up and the boy was gone, around 6 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2015.
Around 6:40 a.m., as police and family searched for Brendan, Creato checked Stensky's Snapchat account, Shah said.
Two police officers, following a dog that tracked Brendan's scent, found the boy just before 9 a.m.
Three medical examiners ruled Brendan had died of "homicidal violence," but couldn't determine whether drowning, strangulation, or smothering — each of which can deprive the brain of oxygen — caused Brendan's death.
Shah, in suggesting smothering Tuesday, said it could leave little to no evidence behind.
Creato's attorney, Richard J. Fuschino Jr., dissected the investigation in a nearly two-hour closing statement — far longer than his 20-minute presentation of the case last week.
He accused prosecutors of grasping at straws to implicate someone and give Haddon Township residents an answer to the mystery.
"In the face of tragedy, no one wants mystery," he said.
The prosecution has failed to prove Creato is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," Fuschino said, defining the phrase.
"It means: Not probably, Not could have, not might have. It means you're sure about what happened," Fuschino said, emphasizing the word "sure."
Fuschino called it preposterous that Creato could be a mastermind who leaves no trace of a crime.
Creato cooperated fully with investigators, Fuschino said. They kept the father at the Haddon Township police station for nearly 12 hours, far longer than any other Creato family member, on the day Brendan's body was discovered.
"He's not a killer," Fuschino said. "He's a victim."
Fuschino said he wasn't trying to "sell" that Brendan walked to the woods near Cooper Street and South Park Drive.
He suggested that Brendan could have accidentally locked himself out and wandered outdoors, where someone nefarious could have grabbed him.
Fuschino, raising his voice, called it "absolutely unforgivable" that Camden County Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin didn't perform a rape kit on Brendan. Feigin testified there was no need, because Brendan's body had no injuries that indicated sexual assault. Shah repeated that Tuesday.
The jury began deliberating late Tuesday afternoon.