CAMDEN, N.J. – Jurors began deliberating Tuesday whether a New Jersey man killed his 3-year-old son because the boy had become an impediment to his relationship with a teenage girlfriend, and whether the father should be convicted of murder.
David Creato, known as D.J., has maintained that his son, Brendan Creato, wandered away from his Haddon Township home in October 2015. He called 911 to report his son missing, and the boy's pajama-clad body was found hours later in a wooded area by the Cooper River about a mile from the home.
Creato could face a life sentence if he's found guilty.
The jury got the case late Tuesday, shortly after defense and prosecution lawyers concluded their closing arguments. Jurors deliberated for about 20 minutes before talks ended for the day. They will resume Wednesday.
In his closing argument, defense lawyer Richard Fuschino Jr. said prosecutors had failed to show Creato was guilty. The lawyer stressed that prosecutors had to prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt — not probably, not could of, not might of," adding that the evidence suggests a stranger was responsible for the child's death.
Prosecutors told jurors there was no reasonable doubt, saying Creato "had the motive and the opportunity and the means" to kill his son. They noted that he was the only person with Brendan the night he disappeared, adding that it wouldn't take much to smother a sleeping child.
A medical examiner testified Brendan died from "homicidal violence" but couldn't determine where or when he died. Brendan's brain showed an abnormality consistent with oxygen deprivation that can be caused by asphyxiation, drowning or strangulation, but it couldn't be determined which of those led to his death.
The prosecution contends Creato killed Brendan to stop his 17-year-old girlfriend, who was away at college, from leaving him. She had made it clear she didn't want to be around his child and wanted him to give up custody.
The girlfriend, who's now 19, was never charged, and they've broken up.
Prosecutors also noted during the trial that about a month after the slaying, in a conversation secretly recorded by the boy's mother, Creato spoke about "a spirit" drawing his son to the woods where he was found dead.
Brendan lived mostly with his mother but had visits with his father.