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April 18, 2013

Grandmother sentenced to 20-40 years for killing grandson

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

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Accused killer Sandra Layne learns that she will spend 20-40 years in prison during her April 18 sentencing in Oakland County Circuit Court.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — A grandmother’s teary-eyed pleas for understanding were not enough to sway a judge from sentencing Sandra Layne, who shot her grandson six times last May, to a minimum of 20 years in prison.

“I don’t want to die in jail,” Lane, 75, said during her final statement before sentencing April 18. She stood during her statement and spoke about how she loved her grandson, in tones varying from hushed to shouting. The retired teacher will serve 20-40 years in prison, plus two years for possession of a firearm.

“My relationship with my beloved grandson was pure and simple,” Layne, who killed 17-year-old Jonathan Hoffman at her West Bloomfield home on Brookview May 18, said before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris, who decided her fate.

Layne talked about how she wished she’d never agreed to let her grandson live with her and her husband, among other things.

“I loved him from the moment I held him in my arms,” said Layne, shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit. “I devoted my life to these children.”

Layne spoke for about 10 minutes, saying that she could not calm her grandson down after he allegedly began taking synthetic marijuana. She claimed his parents, Michael Hoffman and Jennifer Hoffman, did not attempt to help their reportedly troubled son.

Morris said she was troubled that Layne had many opportunities to call the police during the incident, and they would have come.

“What is troubling is why you didn’t call police first,” Morris said. “I wonder if you really felt violated and afraid, and a need to shoot. Why did you keep shooting and how could you keep shooting?”

In March, a jury found Layne, who had no criminal record prior to her arrest, guilty of second-degree murder and using a firearm while committing a felony. 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 man-slaughter.

Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton read Michael Hoffman’s statement aloud to the courtroom. The father described how his son was independent-minded and he “did things his own way.”

“He was his own man,” Walton read from the statement. Michael Hoffman said he regrets that he could not have spent more time with his son, especially in the final year of his life.

Michael Hoffman, who lives in Arizona, reportedly was not in attendance because he was taking care of his and Jennifer Hoffman’s 18-year-old daughter, who had surgery for a brain tumor.

Jennifer Hoffman, Layne’s daughter, who also lives in Arizona, gave a statement about how her son was a normal, rebellious 17-year-old.

“We would sit and talk for hours about conspiracy theories, the Illuminati … and drink coffee and go shopping,” she said, her voice breaking occasionally. “Sandra Layne deserves the maximum penalty amount. … Sandra Layne is pure evil. … She would kill again.”

After Layne was sentenced and was taken out of the courtroom, some people in the crowd waved at her, while others smiled.

After the sentencing, defense attorney Jerome Sabbota said that because of Layne’s age, she will serve a life sentence “whether you give her seven, whether you give her 10 (years in prison).”

“I am disappointed that she didn’t get a lower sentence,” Sabbota said to a crowd of reporters outside the courtroom. “I think she deserved a lower sentence. That is a big fear, (to die in prison).”

Jennifer Hoffman felt a little differently about her mother’s sentencing.

“I was hoping for the maximum,” she said, breaking into an occasional smile outside the courtroom. “That is what I was wishing for. She is a complete narcissist and self-centered. I wish I had seen signs of how evil she was, or I would have never left my son with her.

“I thought justice was done. She deserved a life sentence and she is locked away forever.”

Farmington Hills resident Ali Gornbein told C & G after the sentencing that she was happy with the outcome.

“She killed my friend,” Gornbein said. “(With) the sentencing, I feel pretty amazing.”

During Layne’s March 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 to flee from police. Layne said she made up her mind against that.

Layne said she originally fired the gun upstairs after Jonathan Hoffman allegedly attacked and kicked her. Throughout the 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 cited that a Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital nurse 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.

In March, 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 Hoffman’s 911 call, in which he is heard begging for help, was perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence the prosecution had.

During Layne’s July preliminary examination, prosecution played a segment of Jonathan Hoffman’s 911 call, in which the teen tells the responder that his grandmother shot him. After he pleads for help, he later cries out that he was shot again.

Dr. Ruben Ortiz-Reyes, from the county Medical Examiner’s Office, described five bullet wounds on Jonathan Hoffman’s body as seen during the May 19 autopsy, which concluded that the teen died from gunshots in a homicide. Ortiz-Reyes also talked about the teen’s toxicological exam, in which his urine tested positive for synthetic cannabis.

Oakland County Courthouse could not confirm where Layne will serve her sentence; more than 300 days of jail time were credited to her sentence.

Staff Writer Eric Czarnik contributed to this report.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.