Jury gets case of Mich. woman who killed grandson

Sandra Layne confessed to killing her teenage grandson in her suburban Detroit home. Now the jury deliberating the case must decide whether she fired in self-defense or in the final act of a rocky relationship.

PONTIAC, Mich. — Sandra Layne confessed to killing her teenage grandson as soon as police arrived at her suburban Detroit home last spring. The jury that began deliberating Monday must decide whether the 75-year-old fired in self-defense or repeatedly pulled the trigger in the final vengeful act of a rocky relationship.

Layne unloaded 10 rounds at Jonathan Hoffman over a six-minute span, striking him six times. The high school senior implicated his grandmother in a desperate 911 call before she shot him again with the dispatcher listening.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Paul Walton again played Hoffman's recorded plea for a rescue as he urged jurors to convict Layne of first-degree murder. He rebutted defense claims that she was a helpless woman who fired her Glock after being struck in the face over an argument about her grandson's demanding money and pledging to flee Michigan.

"Just because Sandra Layne said it doesn't make it true," said Walton, who described Hoffman as a victim of a "massacre."

"You don't get a gun because he uses bad language. You don't get to shoot someone because they raised their voice. The only thing Jonathan had was a caustic or smart mouth," the prosecutor said.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before going home Monday. They could acquit Layne based on her self-defense argument or convict her of first-degree murder or a lesser charge.

Layne last week testified that she was afraid of Hoffman. On the day of the shooting, she said he was extremely angry on the ride home from a drug test, kicking the dashboard and demanding the keys. He had tested positive for so-called synthetic marijuana, a result that could trigger a probation violation.

Layne testified that she shot Hoffman, ran to the basement to hide and emerged to shoot him again during a struggle.

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota urged jurors to acquit Layne, asking them to view the incident through the eyes of a woman in her 70s. He said Layne was taking care of a teen who had used drugs and brought strangers to the home. Hoffman's parents were divorced and living in Arizona during his senior year of high school.

"Is there really a motive to murder her grandson? What does she gain?" Sabbota said. "She killed a child she was trying to protect and trying to save. That's a tragedy. Only one reason she did what she did: fear."

Sabbota also played a 911 recording for the jury, a call that Layne made to police two months before Hoffman was killed. Sounding deeply anguished, she said she needed help because her grandson wanted to run away from her home.

"Does she sound calm, cool and collected? Does she sound like Tony Soprano?" Sabbota said, referring to the mob kingpin on the cable-TV series "The Sopranos."

Oakland County Judge Denise Langford Morris told jurors that acquittal based on self-defense could be appropriate if Layne "honestly and reasonably believed" that her life was in danger — even if she was wrong.

The prosecutor reminded the jury that Layne didn't report any injuries to police when they arrived at her home during the shooting.

"Not, I was afraid, I acted in self-defense, he came after me," Walton said. "I murdered. I shot. I killed — those are her first statements to law enforcement. ... She hunted down Jonathan Hoffman because he wouldn't listen."

He said Layne had no injuries, not even a smudge to her makeup.

"If there's a self-defense claim here," he said, "it belongs to Jonathan Hoffman, not Sandra Layne."

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