“My grandma shot me,” said a Michigan teenager in an emergency 911 call. The boy died from his gunshot wounds, and now his grandmother is facing homicide charges. Lawyers for the 75-year-old Sandra Layne have said she acted in self-defense, following a heated argument over the boy’s drug use. After several days of trial an Oakland County jury convicted Layne on March 19, 2013, of second-degree murder in the killing of her grandson without premeditation.
Granny Layne is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of carrying a concealed weapon. She faces life in prison on the murder charge and up to five years on the weapons charges. Michigan is fairly unique in that capital punishment has been outlawed since 1846; therefore, Layne will not be looking at the death penalty. Prosecutors will have to prove that Layne’s killing of Hoffman was willful, deliberate and premeditated.
Officers testified to a chilling scene during a preliminary hearing on July 2, 2012. With hands raised in surrender, Sandra Layne stepped out of her condo and announced to law enforcement, “I murdered my grandson.” The small, frail 74-year-old woman with fading red hair led the police into her condo where Jonathan Hoffman, her teenage grandson, lay dead.
In West Bloomfield Township, a Detroit suburb known for beautiful lawns and rolling acres of green golf courses, nothing could have been more out of place than the scene inside Layne’s home on May 18, 2012 — a 17-year-old murdered, blood on the floor and the walls, nine spent ammunition cartridges on the ground and a Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun, according to police testimony.
The evidence recovered from the scene tends to show that Layne, a former school teacher, pulled the trigger ten times. A medical examiner discovered five gunshot wounds, three in the chest, on Hoffman in an autopsy.
The police arrived following Hoffman’s 911 call. “My grandma shot me,” he said to a 911 operator. “I’m going to die. Help.” The boy died on the scene.
Lawyers for Layne said that the grandmother acted in self-defense and have said that you can hear a struggle in the 911 call. Hoffman had been using drugs — synthetic marijuana (known as spice or K2) was found in his bloodstream in an autopsy — and their relationship was rocky. Hoffman was living with his grandmother while his mother and father were divorcing. He was attending a local alternative high school and had been ticketed for marijuana possession a few months prior to his death.
Layne’s attorneys say the fight broke out after Hoffman tested positive for synthetic marijuana at a court-ordered probation meeting earlier that day.
Police had been called to the house for a domestic dispute a few months earlier, but no arrests were made at that time.
Layne is being held without bond in an Oakland County jail.
Layne was formally arraigned on July 12, 2012. She pleaded not guilty to a charge of open murder. A small group of family and friends supported her in court, trying to cheer her with smiles and waves.
The 75-year-old grandmother was convicted March 19, 2013, of second-degree murder. The Oakland County jury could have convicted Layne of charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, or it could have acquitted her based on her argument that she killed Hoffman in self-defense.
There will be a separate sentencing hearing.
Sandra Layne – The 74-year-old accused is a former schoolteacher. She was known by her neighbors as a sweet older woman who loved her family.
Jonathan Hoffman – Layne’s grandson and the homicide victim in this case, Hoffman was 17 years old, 5’5” and 110 lbs. when he died. According to Layne’s attorneys, Hoffman had been struggling with school and drugs, including Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.
Jerome Sabbota, Mitchell Ribitwer – Layne’s defense team, both are veteran criminal defense lawyers who left the prosecutor’s office in the early 80’s.
Teen Shot By Grandmother Calls 911
Granny Got Her Gun… Is She Guilty Of Murdering Her Grandson?
In order to convict Granny Layne, Michigan prosecutors will have to show that she intended to kill her grandson and that the killing was premeditated. Given the few facts currently available on this case, it may be difficult to show that Granny Layne went so far as to have premeditated the killing — in fact, her best bet is to argue self-defense.
A self-defense theory would be a great sell to a jury if the facts can back it up. Here’s sweet Granny Layne, who took the troubled teen into her home when his parents left him behind. How did her grandson repay her? By getting kicked out of mainstream high school and sent to an alternative school, by getting arrested for possession of marijuana, for stashing his drugs and using drugs in her lovely suburban home, for causing enough of a domestic disturbance that the authorities were called, and, finally, for failing a court-ordered drug test. With those facts, it would be easy to paint Hoffman as the bad seed, especially next to an elderly woman with no criminal history whatsoever.
The defense will likely argue that Hoffman was out of control and high on illegal drugs, that he threatened his grandmother and that she feared for her own life. They will argue that she pulled the gun out as a last resort, simply to protect herself. They will argue that she only fired when he wouldn’t stop.
The noises heard on the 911 call seems to indicate a struggle, and it’s possible that Hoffman was holding on to Layne and she shot out of self-defense. Perhaps Hoffman was trying to wrest the gun from his grandmother. It seems unlikely that the diminutive Layne would even be able to physically restrain her grandson, so the struggle was probably initiated by Hoffman.
However, ballistics evidence shows that Granny Layne pulled the trigger 10 times — though Hoffman was only hit five times. Blood evidence shows that Hoffman managed to get upstairs to his bedroom, leaving a trail of blood behind him. At some point, Hoffman did in fact retreat. The prosecution will use the number of shots fired, the fact that Hoffman placed the 911 call, and Hoffman’s retreat as evidence tending to show that he was the victim.
With just the evidence known to the public, it’s difficult to say how this case will pan out.