PONTIAC (WWJ/AP) – 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 stomach and demanded money and a car to leave the state.
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.
The defense called police officer Scott Mong who responded to the condo on that call.
Mong said Hoffman was agitated and cursing about his mother — Layne’s daughter.
“At first he said, her daughter ruined my [expletive] life. Then, I asked him to please settle down and calm down … and then he continued on with his yelling,” said Mong, “I believe he said, her daughter is a piece of [expletive].”
Layne said she bought a gun in April 2012 because she feared that her grandson’s friends were dangerous and might steal her valuables. She told jurors she was “desperate and didn’t know what to do.” She practiced shooting at a range weeks before she killed her grandson.
On the day of the shooting, Layne said, Hoffman had flunked a drug test and was at risk of being sent to jail for violating probation in a marijuana case. She said he demanded $2,000 and the keys to her car.
“I went into my bedroom and started looking for the gun,” Layne said. “I wanted him to pay attention to me. He had to listen. It wasn’t a conversation. It was arguing. Swearing.”
She said she shot Hoffman after he kicked her and struck her in the head. Layne then rushed to the basement from a third-floor loft to hide. She said she returned and shot the teen again after he grabbed for the gun.
“I was afraid it would start all over again,” Layne testified.
On cross-examination, prosecutors asked Layne why she simply didn’t boot her grandson out of the house if she was so afraid of him. She acknowledged that he never struck her before the day of the shooting.
“Instead of sending Jonathan home and telling his parents to pick him up or calling his Aunt Judy, the option you choose is to buy a gun,” assistant prosecutor Kelli Megyesi said.
Earlier in her testimony, Layne said a “tipping point” occurred when she saw Hoffman restrained while being treated in a hospital for drug use.
“I knew he was troubled, but I didn’t realize he was that troubled,” she said.
Cross-examination will resume Thursday. Layne faces life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder.
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