Defendant Sandra Layne is shackled after being convicted of second-degree murder. (Todd McInturf / Detroit News)
Pontiac —A 75-year-old West Bloomfield Township woman on trial for the murder of her 17-year-old grandson was found guilty of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony by an Oakland County Circuit Court jury.
The verdict against Sandra Layne came after eight hours of deliberations over two days.
She was tried on an open murder charge in the May18 death of Jonathan Hoffman, who she shot six times during an argument in her West Bloomfield condominium.
Several members of Layne's family clutched one another as the verdicts were read. Hoffman's divorced parents — Michael and Jennifer Hoffman — looked at each other across an aisle and exchanged smiles. Outside the courtroom the victim's father said, "I'm thrilled," and Jennifer said of her mother: "You got what you deserved." She called Layne "a monster."
A sobbing Layne was led out of a courtroom by a half-dozen deputies. She will be sentenced on April 8.
Under sentencing guidelines, she is expected to be get a minimum of 12 years for second-degree murder and must serve a separate mandatory two-year sentence for the firearms conviction. A total of 14 years, meaning she would be nearly 90 years old before she would be released from prison.
"It's a life sentence for her," said her attorney, Jerome Sabbota, outside the courtroom. "She's devastated but there is nothing anyone can do to her that she hasn't done to herself."
During a two-week trial, the jury heard from more than two dozen witnesses, including Layne who said she acted out of desperation and self-defense.
Jurors listened to evidence experts and heard dramatic 911 phone recordings in which Hoffman told a dispatcher that his grandmother shot him and begged for help.
Hoffman's parents moved to Arizona in the summer of 2012, and he went to live with Layne and her 87-year-old husband in order to finish high school in Michigan.
But according to witnesses, Hoffman fell behind in studies, missed curfew, came home late with friends and was arrested for drug possession two months before the shooting.
Hoffman, on probation for marijuana possession, had been hospitalized with hallucinations after eating psychedelic mushrooms, and on the day of the shooting had failed a court-ordered drug test that showed he had K2, a synthetic drug, in his urine. K2 is found in a room deodorizer called Spice, but smoked by users to obtain a marijuana-like high.
Layne, who drove him to the test, said she had argued with her grandson on the way home and he threatened to take her car and cash and run away because he thought he would be sent to jail for violating his probation.
Layne said she armed herself with the handgun purchased just a few weeks earlier to make him listen to her, and during the argument shot Hoffman after he kicked her in the chest and arm.
Walton described Layne as a murderer who could have called for police help instead of pumping six bullets into her grandson.
"She didn't want him to leave," Walton said. "That's why she took the gun up there."
Sabbota portrayed Layne as a dutiful grandmother who loved her grandson but came to fear him because of often violent behavior and his escalating drug use.
Layne also testified she was aware of a Farmington Hills case in which another teenager — believed to be under the influence of K2 — allegedly beat his father to death with a baseball bat. That case is still pending.
Jurors declined to talk with reporters but told attorneys in the case they were influenced by the power of the 911 tape and a distrust of Layne.
"The jury listened to the tape over and over and over again," Walton said. "Each time, they said they heard something different. They were especially affected by hearing a gunshot at a time when there is no struggle."
Sabbota said jurors told him they found his client "sounded evasive" on the second day of testimony when giving only "yes and no answers."
"They didn't like her," agreed Walton. "They found her evasive and deceptive."
The judge instructed jurors before deliberations that they could consider first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter or acquittal in the case.
Michael Hoffman described his convicted mother-in-law "as a thorn in my side."
"She was difficult, meddlesome and very controlling," he said. "I never liked her."
Layne's daughter — who referred to her mother as "Sandra Layne" — said she talked with her every month and was never advised of any problems with her son. She also said Jonathan made no complaints of problems.
Jennifer Hoffman said she had made plans to return to Michigan last year to help her son prepare for college.
She said she had no wish to talk to her mother ever again.
"I'm glad she's put away and can't harm anyone else," said Jennifer Hoffman. "I know my son is in heaven and it's a place she'll never see."