Two towns rally against plea deal in Fofana case

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Members of the Maplewood and South Orange community came together on Thursday, Sept. 15, to protest the purported plea deal between the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Yohan Hernandez, 21, of Newark, the defendant in the Moussa Fofana murder case.

The rally and march, which began at Columbia High School and concluded at Maplewood Town Hall, was organized in opposition to a plea deal agreement that would see Hernandez serve just 15 years in prison for the murder of Fofana, who was an 18-year-old Columbia High School student. Fofana was shot to death at Underhill Field in Maplewood on June 6, 2021.

Hawa Fofana, the victim’s mother, spoke at the rally, sharing her heartache and expressing her wish that Hernandez serve more prison time.

“I raised my son. I did a good thing. I did everything for him to do the right thing, and he did,” Hawa Fofana said at the rally, adding that 15 years is “not justice for my son.”

Former Maplewood Mayor Fred Profeta, who has been an active supporter of the Fofana family following the teen’s murder, called the plea agreement “a terrible insult to Moussa” and “a national outrage.”

He encouraged people to sign a petition calling for a sentence of 30 years to life; the petition is online at Profeta also urged people to reach out to acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II at 973-621-4700 or Veterans Courthouse, 50 W. Market St., Newark, NJ 07102.

The prosecutor’s office, however, is standing behind its methods regarding plea agreements.

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has consistently approached the cases presented to us by following the law and the facts,” Stephens said in a statement to the News-Record. “The tragic homicide of young Moussa Fofana was handled in the same way. Consistent with that approach, we have been mindful of the importance of keeping the family, through their counsel, informed of all important aspects of this case and have afforded them their right to offer meaningful input that we have considered in formulating the proposed plea. Based on the experience and expertise this office possesses, it is our considered opinion that all efforts to resolve this matter have been undertaken keeping all the above in mind.”

Other speakers at the rally were Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis; Mabel Obasi, one of Moussa Fofana’s former teachers at CHS; and two Seton Hall University students. Dafis also read aloud a statement from South Orange President Sheena Collum, who was unable to attend.

In his remarks, Dafis also spoke of the need for gun reform in this country.

“I’m not here to be seen; I’m not here to score political points; I’m not here to call for revenge. For me, Justice for Moussa is in gun control,” Dafis said at the event. “Guns kill. A gun killed Moussa. Unfettered, easy, unlimited access to guns killed Moussa. Gun violence is decimating communities across our nation, they are killing our black and brown babies, men and women. We demand of our elected representatives that guns be taken off our streets, out of our parks and schools.

“Justice for Moussa is in police accountability and transparency. Justice for Moussa is in youth and adult restorative justice to give second chances, to treat and prevent, to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, in diverting victims and perpetrators from stationhouses and the courts into community mutual aid, in helping each other,” he continued. “Justice for Moussa is in safe schools where all of our students are safe, affirmed, where there are no achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity, citizenship status or socioeconomic status. Justice for Moussa is in closing the racial and ethnic disparities in opportunity and access, to stop criminalizing poverty which only serve to further divide, alienate, aggravate.”

Dafis urged those gathered to raise their voices at the polls in this November’s congressional and local elections.

“Think about this type of justice when you’re voting,” Dafis said. “In closing, I stand with you in your grief; we grieve together. Let us be the shining light that Moussa was — he is counting on us.”

Photos by Jane Steinberg and Courtesy of Mason Levinson