Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 14, 2013

Grandma who killed grandson: I feared him

PONTIAC — A 75-year-old woman charged with first-degree murder sobbed on the witness stand Wednesday as she told jurors how she repeatedly shot her teenage grandson after he kicked her in the abdomen and demanded money and a car to leave Michigan.

Sandra Layne described herself as an overwhelmed grandmother who took Jonathan Hoffman into her Detroit-area home after his parents divorced and moved to Arizona. She said she "adored" the 17-year-old, but their relationship changed when the teen got involved with drugs.

"Did you want to kill this young man?" defense attorney Jerome Sabbota asked.

"Of course not. I still love him," Layne replied, crying and nervously rocking in the witness chair.

Authorities said Layne fired 10 shots, striking Hoffman six times, even while he was on the phone with 911 begging for help from their West Bloomfield Township home. His death in May 2012 occurred as Michigan officials were cracking down on the sale of so-called synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or Spice, because of its adverse effects on young people. An autopsy revealed traces of it in his body.

Layne answered questions from her lawyer for more than an hour, mostly talking about the months that preceded the fatal shooting, all in an attempt to show jurors that the slender, gray-haired woman was becoming deeply fearful of her grandson.

She said Hoffman attended an alternative high school, used drugs and spent time with friends whom she didn't know or trust. Layne said he couldn't control his temper if things went wrong, destroying computer equipment and kicking doors and the car dashboard.

Sabbota played a 911 call to police two months before Hoffman's death when she believed he was planning to run away.

"I know you hate me for this, honey, but you need some help," she told Hoffman in a conversation that was picked up on the 911 recording.

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