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West Bloomfield

March 20, 2013

Grandmother found guilty of second-degree murder

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

The gun-wielding grandmother accused of murdering her own grandson last May will stay behind bars after a jury declared she is guilty of second-degree murder and using a firearm while committing a felony.

After a full day of jury deliberations, Sandra Layne, 75, of West Bloomfield looked pained and stunned as she heard the panel’s decision March 19 in Oakland County Circuit Court.

On the count of murder, the jury had the option of acquitting Layne or declaring her guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

A major distinction between first- and second-degree murder is that the former requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of premeditation.

Michael Hoffman, father of murder victim Jonathan Hoffman, called his son “a very spiritual and creative person” when asked for comment after the verdict. He said he has “no words” to say to Layne.

The victim’s mother, Jennifer Hoffman, called Layne a “monster” and said she will never forgive her.

“You got what you deserved,” she said regarding Layne.

Layne killed Hoffman, 17, at her West Bloomfield home on Brookview Lane May 18, 2012, shooting him multiple times with a pistol.

At one point in the trial, Layne took the witness stand and was cross-examined. She talked about how it feels to know that her grandson is now dead. “It’s indescribable,” she said.

During cross-examination, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Kelli Megyesi asked Layne what she was doing in different areas of the home during the incident. While responding, Layne rocked in her chair, sometimes sobbed and often answered with “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota argued that Layne was acting in self-defense. Layne, who took care of Hoffman while his parents were living in Arizona, said she originally bought the gun because she was afraid of some people Hoffman allegedly invited to her home.

In her testimony, Layne said she and Hoffman argued after he received a positive drug test result for synthetic marijuana. She said Hoffman feared he would go to jail and that he wanted to take Layne’s car and some money and flee from police. Layne said she made up her mind against that.

Layne said she originally fired the gun upstairs after Hoffman allegedly attacked and kicked her. Throughout her testimony she described how she was “hysterical” and frightened at the time, and she added that she did not want to kill her grandson.

The prosecution and defense clashed in arguing whether Layne suffered injuries on the day of Hoffman’s death.

The prosecution called up Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital nurse Jennifer Colby, who testified that she examined Layne May 18 and didn’t detect any injuries. The defense said Layne asked for a juice box at the West Bloomfield police station and applied it to her head because it was hurting.

After the verdict, Sabbota said his client was “devastated” and upset. Earlier that day he told the Beacon that he thought Layne’s testimony helped her case. “I think that she told the truth. She told you how she felt,” Sabbota said.

Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton said he took the jury at its word that it could analyze the evidence without bias or sympathy despite Layne’s grandmotherly appearance. He said Jonathan’s 911 call, in which he is heard begging for help, was perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence the prosecution had.

According to Walton, Layne will face a mandatory two-year sentence for the firearms charge. Then she could face an additional 12 years to life behind bars for the murder sentence, he said.

Presiding Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris said Layne’s sentencing is scheduled for April 18.