Parents: Grandma 'monster,' slain son 'vindicated'

Jurors say boy’s 911 call was crucial to their decision

By Ed White
Associated Press

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Calling her mother a “monster,” Jennifer Hoffman said the 75-year-old woman deserves to be in prison for fatally shooting her teen son and strongly refuted the image painted of the boy during the Detroit-area grandmother’s trial.

Sandra Layne, of West Bloomfield Township, was found guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder in death of her 17-year-old grandson Jonathan Hoffman last May 18.

Jennifer Hoffman and her ex-husband, Michael Hoffman, said the verdict is “vindication” for their son whose actions and lifestyle were called into question through Layne’s testimony. Layne said she bought a gun because she feared the teen and his friends after he came to live with her during his senior year in high school.

Layne fired 10 shots, striking Hoffman six times. She claimed she acted in self-defense during a violent argument, but the jury rejected that argument and found her guilty Tuesday. She also was convicted of using a gun during a felony and likely faces at least 14 years in prison.

“It’s a final vindication for my son, to restore his good name and reputation, because over the course of the last nine months, it’s been tarnished in a very cruel manner,” Michael Hoffman said.

Jennifer Hoffman acknowledged that the teen had used drugs but said she wasn’t aware of any deeper conflict between him and her mother. The Hoffmans, who are divorced, moved to Arizona from Michigan and had their hands full caring for a daughter with a brain tumor. They said Layne had offered to take in Jonathan Hoffman for his final year of school in 2011.

Jennifer Hoffman called her mother a “monster.”

“It’s really hard to comprehend that your own mother could do something like this to your own child,” she told reporters. “I just know that my son is in heaven, and that’s a place that she’ll never see.”

Layne wept quietly as the verdict was read at the end of the first full day of jury deliberations. As she was being led out of court, her wrists handcuffed to a chain around her midsection, some family members sitting with her 87-year-old husband, Fred, waved in a show of support. But she couldn’t make eye contact because there was a sheriff’s deputy in between.

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota said Layne was “devastated” by the verdict and is sorrowful over her grandson’s death.

“She punishes herself every day,” he said. “The legal system does what the legal system does. The jury felt that it wasn’t appropriate self-defense.”

Layne testified last week for about five hours, portraying herself as a big-hearted grandma who felt overwhelmed when Jonathan Hoffman was briefly hospitalized for drug use a year ago. She said he was loud, coarse and argumentative in subsequent weeks and, on the day of the shooting, had tested positive for so-called synthetic marijuana, which could have triggered a probation violation.
Layne said Hoffman demanded $2,000 and a car to flee Michigan. She claimed he kicked her and struck her in the face before she shot him.

But prosecutor Paul Walton noted that she never told police she had been attacked when she immediately confessed to the killing. A hospital nurse who examined her after her arrest said Layne had no injuries and had spoken lovingly about Hoffman.

And there was also an extraordinary piece of evidence: Hoffman’s own plea for help recorded during a desperate call to 911.

“My grandma shot me. I’m going to die. Help. I got shot again,” he told the dispatcher as he gasped for air.

Jurors declined to comment following the verdict. But they told attorneys during a private meeting that the call was crucial to their decision. It revealed that Layne had left Hoffman bleeding but then returned with more gunfire.

“They said they played it over and over and over again” in the jury room, prosecutor Paul Walton said.

Sabbota agreed that jurors found the “911 call was critical.”

Michael Hoffman said his son, clad only in socks and athletic shorts when he was shot, showed “amazing courage” in his final moments of life.

Without the 911 call, the father said, “we could have had a very different result” at trial.