This story was updated on August 24, 2022, to reflect the fact that a hearing originally scheduled for August 26 has been rescheduled for September 1.
Family and friends are reacting in sadness and anger at a reported 15-year plea deal in the murder of Moussa Fofana, the Maplewood teen and Columbia High School student who was shot and killed at the Underhill Sports Complex last year.
Moussa’s mother Hawa Fofana reports that she was told this morning that a plea deal has been struck with Yohan Hernandez, the Newark man arrested and charged in the murder her son.
Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly did not confirm the plea deal but wrote to Village Green, “I can confirm that there is a court hearing scheduled for Friday, 8/26/22 at 10:00 am before the Hon. Ronald D. Wigler, J.S.C.” [Update: Per the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the next court date for State v. Yohan Hernandez is now 9/1/2022, at 9:30 a.m., before Judge Wigler. A meeting link will be shared when it becomes available. The August 26 hearing has been canceled.]
“I am not happy about it all,” said Hawa Fofana. “Fifteen years. That’s nothing.” She added that she was taken by surprise when she heard about the deal this morning. “I didn’t ask too many question because I was so disappointed and so sad.”
The Fofana family’s victim’s rights attorney Richard Pompelio said he was not contacted about the deal or about the meeting with the assistant prosecutor this morning — nor was Moussa’s father. “Hawa was called by the assistant prosecutor who said they wanted her to come down and talk about the case. They didn’t mention a plea bargain, so she didn’t call me,” said Pompelio, who added that Ms. Fofana was not told what the charge would be in exchange for the plea. “It all happened so quickly. I’ve just sat down to communicate to the county prosecutor.”
Pompelio said that Moussa’s father is “beside himself” about the deal. “We’ve worked hard all these years to make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen. … The victims should have time to give the input that the law requires.”
Pompelio called news of the deal “extremely disappointing.”
Former Maplewood Mayor Fred Profeta, who helped raise more than $50,000 in reward money for information aiding in the arrest of Moussa’s murderer, said he spoke with Ms. Fofana today. “If it is indeed 15 years, then I am very upset by this result. It is not commensurate with the energy and emotion that this community put into the location and arrest of Moussa’s killer.”
“The other thing that outraged me about this case is the way they went about it. They called Hawa down yesterday ‘to talk about the case.’ And then she was confronted with the information that a 15-year plea deal has been reached. This was not some two-bit crime. This was murder. Hawa suffered every parent’s worst nightmare. She deserved to provide input before the sentence was agreed upon.”