Moussa Fofana’s Killer Sentenced to 15 Years, Takes Aggravated Manslaughter Plea

by The Village Green
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On November 16, 2022, Yohan Hernandez was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for shooting and killing Columbia High School student and soccer player Moussa Fofana, 18, at the Underhill Sports Complex in Maplewood on June 6, 2021.

Local leaders and Fofana’s family have decried the aggravated manslaughter plea deal, with the family’s attorney saying that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office did not provided the family with information and the opportunity for input in the plea deal.

Fred Profeta, former Maplewood Mayor who has advocated for justice in the case, said the 15-year plea deal was “an insult” and does not align with the facts of the case, or the law.

A march from Columbia High School to Maplewood Town Hall protesting the plea deal and sentencing was held in September.

On November 16, Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler told Fofana’s family, “Please don’t think this 15-year sentence represents the value of Moussa’s life. There’s not a sentence or a number of years in jail I can give him [Hernandez] that will make your lives whole again. And I’m sorry. But I’m satisfied that under all the circumstances, this plea is fair and appropriate.”

Moussa Fofana has been deeply mourned by the South Orange-Maplewood community — with classmates, teammates and others remembering his broad smile, friendliness, big personality, his passion for soccer and devotion to friends and family. Fofana was remembered with a special banner at CHS boys soccer senior night in 2021. At the Class of 2022 graduation, a seat was left empty for Fofana and his name was called along with the graduates, eliciting thunderous applause.

Hawa Fofana at September 16 rally

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From the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office:        

Newark – Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II announced today [November 16, 2022] that Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler sentenced Yohan Hernandez to 15 years in prison for the fatal shooting of Moussa Fofana, who at the time of his death was an 18-year-old junior at Columbia High School in Maplewood.

In a plea hearing on September 22, Hernandez plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter, as well as aggravated assault, and the unlawful possession of a handgun in connection to shooting of Fofana. Under the No Early Release Act, Hernandez, 21, of Newark, must serve 85 percent of his 15-year sentence before being eligible for parole. He will also likely face deportation after serving his sentence because he isn’t a U.S. citizen, said Judge Wigler.

After Fofana’s parents addressed the court, Judge Wigler told them that “this is a terrible tragedy.”

“Please don’t think this 15-year sentence represents the value of Moussa’s life,” added Wigler. “There’s not a sentence or a number of years in jail I can give him [Hernandez] that will make your lives whole again. And I’m sorry. But I’m satisfied that under all the circumstances, this plea is fair and appropriate.”

On June 6, 2021, Maplewood police were dispatched to a field near the Underhill Sports Complex on reports of a shooting. The responding officers found Fofana suffering from a gunshot wound, and later that day he was pronounced dead. A 17-year-old boy was also wounded in the leg.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force launched an investigation, along with Maplewood Police, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The investigation led to the arrest of Hernandez on August 6, 2021

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office shares in the grief experienced by the Fofana family and the entire Township of Maplewood,” said Acting Prosecutor Stephens. “The interests of justice have been served, however, because this killer will not walk the streets in Essex County, and perhaps not in this nation, for years to come.”

Jacqueline Bilinkas, the Assistant Prosecutor who tried the case, added that this was a tragic event that resulted in the loss of a young man who truly touched his community.

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office believes that this sentence brought justice to the Fofana family and safety to the community,” said Bilinkas. “It is our hope that this sentence deters future senseless violence in Essex County.”

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