Plea deal accepted in New Jersey soccer star's murder despite outrage

Thursday, September 22, 2022
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A judge accepted a plea deal in connection with the murder of a standout high school soccer player despite outrage from a New Jersey community. Darla Miles has the story.

MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- A judge accepted a plea deal Thursday in connection with the murder of a standout high school soccer player despite outrage from a New Jersey community.

The family of Moussa Fofana begged the Essex County judge not to allow 20-year-old Yohan Hernandez to plead guilty to lesser prison time in a fatal 2021 shooting in Maplewood - a crime that shocked the community.

But Judge Ronald Wigler permitted the plea arrangement to move forward, citing the recommendation of Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

"I'm not surprised you're not satisfied, and I don't think I would be satisfied if I were in your position," Judge Wigler told the family. "I respect your wishes, but I also have to respect the discretion the prosecutors have to enter into this plea agreement."

Under the terms of the plea deal, Hernandez will spend 15 years in prison.

The family was calling for 30 years to life and dismissed the "ridiculously low prison term of 15 years."

The endless grief and agony suffered by the victim's family played out in the courtroom.

For the first time ever, victim impact statements were allowed during the routine plea hearing, and family members cried out for justice.

Fofana, an 18-year-old junior at Columbia High School, was fatally shot at the Underhill Sports Complex in June 2021.

Hernandez, of Newark, was arrested later that summer and charged with murder, aggravated assault and other offenses.

Last month, attorneys for Hernandez called prosecutors saying he was willing to accept responsibility for the murder, triggering plea negotiations that otherwise were not underway.

The two parties agreed to a 15-year sentence.

"A family should never, ever, ever, equate a number to the value to their loved ones because that's not at all what's going on here, that's not at all entered into the equation," Wigler said.

In anticipation of the plea hearing, the Fofana family held a march through Maplewood in protest of the 15-year sentence -- which they railed against in court Thursday.

"Please, I'm begging you, years, I will have nightmares, I'm begging everybody in this courtroom, please," mother Hawa Fofana said.

She previously said her son loved playing soccer and dreamed of a career in the sport and being able to buy his grandmother a home in the family's native land of Liberia. She called her son the golden child who was affectionate and his tragic death has left a deep hole in her heart.

"Our life will never be the same, he was everything to me," Fofana said. "He thought I was everything to him, but he had no idea he was my everything."

Hernandez, who is not a U.S. citizen, was advised by the judge that he will likely be deported after he serves his sentence.

He must complete 85% of the 15 years, the judge told him

Sentencing was set for November 16 at 9 a.m.

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