PONTIAC, Mich. — A 75-year-old Detroit-area woman who killed her grandson expressed remorse Thursday but repeatedly accused his parents of dumping a troubled boy at her doorstep during a desperate, emotional plea to avoid a prison sentence that likely means death behind bars.
The judge wasn’t swayed, sending Sandra Layne away for at least 22 years and capping a wrenching case that revealed family strife, adolescent rebellion and fatal consequences.
Joanthan Hoffman was shot six times, including twice in the back, last spring in Oakland County’s West Bloomfield Township. Layne, a former teacher and real estate agent, said she shot him out of fear during a physical altercation, but a jury in March rejected her claim of self-defense and convicted her of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors said there were no signs of Layne being injured by Hoffman. A recording of a 911 call shows him being shot again while pleading for help — a critical piece of evidence that jurors played over and over during deliberations. Judge Denise Langford Morris zeroed in on it, too, wondering why Layne simply didn’t call police if she felt helpless.
“Grandmothers are supposed to protect. … Why did you keep shooting and how could you keep shooting?” Morris asked. “You didn’t have to keep shooting. Those were hollow-pointed bullets designed for a devastating impact.”
Layne sobbed heavily during a long, rambling address to the judge, her belly chains and handcuffs sagging over orange jail clothes on her slight frame.
“I’m sorry for what I did. I apologize to everyone I’ve hurt, everyone. … Sorry is too small a word,” she said, pleading with Morris to not allow her to die in prison.
Layne’s minimum sentence for murder is 20 years, in addition to a two-year sentence for using a gun. She will get credit for 11 months served in jail. Any release from prison after serving the minimum would be determined by the Michigan parole board.
Hoffman was living with his grandmother during his last year of high school while his parents lived in Arizona where a daughter was being treated for a brain tumor. He had a history of drug use and had tested positive for synthetic marijuana on the day of the shooting. Layne claimed he feared flunking probation and demanded money and a car to leave the area.
Prosecutors, however, said Hoffman was wearing just shorts and socks when he was killed and had made plans to see a friend that night, not flee.
Prosecutor Paul Walton, noting the minutes that went by before Layne shot the boy again, said he had never handled a homicide “this cold, this long and this calculating.”
Hoffman’s father did not attend the hearing because he was in Arizona with his 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, who is recovering from a tumor. Michael Hoffman said the girl “has a hole in her heart to match the hole in her head” since her brother’s death.
In a letter read by the prosecutor, the father said Layne “put on her war paint and came in gunning for my boy.” He accused Layne of killing his son because he was ready to move on after high school and she would no longer be able to control him.
Layne’s daughter, Jennifer Hoffman, urged the judge to show no mercy.
“She showed no mercy when she planned, stalked and murdered my son in his bedroom. Sandra Layne is pure evil and if given the opportunity would surely kill again,” Jennifer Hoffman said.
Layne blamed the parents for not taking Jonathan back to Arizona and said her grandson’s drug use made him unmanageable for an elderly woman. She accused Michael Hoffman of giving up on the boy and said she pleaded with the pair to return to Michigan when drugs landed him in the hospital.
“If I could go back, I never would have bought that gun,” Layne told the judge. “I would have said to his parents it’s their responsibility, help him, take him.”
Outside court, Jennifer Hoffman said her mother was lying about any indifference by parents. She said she visited Michigan once a month.
“She’s a complete narcissist. … I wish I had seen how evil she was. I wouldn’t have left my son with her,” Jennifer Hoffman told reporters.
Layne’s husband, Fred, and son, Scott Silvers, declined to comment on the sentence. The judge said Hoffman probably belonged in a rehab center or another place outside his grandmother’s supervision but instead “is in his grave at 17.”
“Make no mistake,” Morris said, “Jonathan is the victim here.”