Nearly two years after Brendan Creato disappeared from his South Jersey home, his father was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for killing the 3-year-old and dumping his body in the woods.
But how the toddler was killed remained a mystery, along with David “D.J.” Creato’s exact motive that October 2015 night. And while the 23-year-old pleaded guilty last month, family members insisted Friday he was innocent.
Creato showed no obvious emotion as he stood before Camden County Superior Court Judge John T. Kelley. In handcuffs, shackles, and a red prison jumpsuit, Creato declined the opportunity to speak before the judge imposed the sentence agreed upon in a plea deal.
When prosecutors showed a video montage of images of his son from birth to the end of his short life, Creato did not look at the screen. With the lights lowered in the hushed courtroom, photographs showed Brendan as a newborn, held closely in his mother’s arms, sitting on steps with a pumpkin, and visiting with Santa Claus.
The video ended with a quote attributed to A.A. Milne: “”If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.”
“Brendan was well cared for and loved by many,” his maternal grandmother, Danielle Collins, said in a statement read by a prosecutor. “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss him. … I lost a piece of me that I will never get back, my angel in heaven that I long to reunite with one day.”
The boy’s pajama-clad body was found slumped over a rock in woods near the Cooper River in Haddon Township on Oct. 13, 2015, hours after Creato called 911 and reported him missing. The bottoms of the socks on his feet were clean, suggesting he had not walked there on his own, prosecutors pointed out.
No specific cause of death was determined. Three medical examiners ruled that Brendan died of “homicidal violence” but could not determine whether he was drowned, strangled, or smothered. In court in August, Creato admitted that he “recklessly caused his son’s death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life by depriving Brendan of oxygen.”
From the moment Brendan disappeared and residents joined police in a frantic search, the case riveted the region. Prosecutors said Creato killed his son in an attempt to prevent his girlfriend from leaving him because she disliked Creato’s having a child from a previous relationship.
In a surprise move, Creato…