The plea agreement starts to bring the two-year case to a conclusion ahead of David “DJ” Creato, Jr.’s scheduled sentencing hearing.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 24, 2017
After a lengthy investigation, formal indictment, and a 10-day trial that failed to reach a consensus verdict, David “DJ” Creato, Jr. of Haddon Township finally pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated manslaughter in the death of his three-year-old son, Brendan.
If it’s upheld at sentencing September 29, the plea deal will send Creato, Jr. to a minimum of eight-and-a-half years in New Jersey state prison.
The agreement came as something of a surprise wrap-up to one of the more high-profile local criminal cases in recent years. Since Brendan Creato went missing in October 2015, the circumstances of his death, the handling and recovery of his body, and the assignment of blame for his murder have been sensationalized in coverage of the incident.
So as reactions to the plea deal streamed in via social media, it’s probably most telling that the people closest to the case aren’t interested in speaking publicly.
Samantha Denoto, the late boy’s mother, hasn’t said much throughout the ordeal, with the exception of her testimony in the courtroom this summer and a handful of remarks at the dedication of a memorial bench around the corner from where Brendan’s body was recovered.
On Wednesday, her family said they wouldn’t speak until after the sentencing hearing, which is when victim impact statements often are read in the courtroom.
That same afternoon, no one answered the door at the Creato family home, which was jammed with reporters’ business cards. No one on the block entertained requests for comment.
Creato, Jr.’s defense attorney, Richard Fuschino of Philadelphia, argued the case to a mistrial May 31, but declined yesterday to speak with PhillyVoice, the outlet with which he’s most regularly communicated since taking the case. Fuschino is out of the office for the remainder of the week, according to a representative from his firm.
One of the only people willing to talk yesterday was Stephen O’Connor of Haddon Township, whose family has lived next door to the Denotos for years.
O’Connor said he’s watched Samantha and her siblings Lexi and John all grow up alongside his own family.
Their households share a quiet street in a working-class neighborhood—a description that could fairly be applied to much of the community in which they reside.
The disquiet of the tragedy is visible here: some homes are still adorned with the oversized blue ribbons that had been adopted as a symbol of the boy’s untimely death.
In a town of 14,000 people, every life matters; every loss is felt. No outcome of the case would have satisfied everyone affected by it. No court proceeding restores the life of a toddler cut short by violence, or undoes the grim acknowledgment that the boy’s death was caused by someone to whose care he was entrusted.
No sentence will make psychological restitution for the shockwaves of anxiety that the killing produced, as its sordid details were digested and regurgitated for the better part of two full years. But to O’Connor, the plea deal does accomplish a few important things.
It gives his neighbors some sense of finality in the matter.
It cements Creato, Jr.’s culpability in the death of his own son, and by his own admission.
It offers a starting point for the Creato and Denoto families to rebuild their lives, and spares them all the further pain of another jury trial, the outcome of which would not be guaranteed.
At the least, O’Connor said, it’s a start.
“It’s about time something allows them to finally have some peace,” he said.
“I think it’s about time, and I think Samantha’s family has just been through hell with this.
“I just can’t imagine being in the situation they’re in,” he said.
O’Connor is also realistic about the limits of that peace.
It doesn’t change the fact that a child is dead. It doesn’t undo the intimacy of the damage done. And it doesn’t make the case any easier to discuss.
If there is silence from the families as they process the situation and their own grief, it’s a silence to which they are entitled, and maybe the first moments of quiet they are so dearly due.
“I think everybody would like their neighborhoods to be closer these days, but a lot of times it’s hard,” O’Connor said. “It’s so hard to talk to somebody about something as tragic as this. You’re not going to be able to put it behind you, but it’s some sense of justice.
“I just think it’s about time,” O’Connor said. “It’s been tragic for these people and they just need some peace.”
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