Husband won’t be forced to pay in grandson’s death

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — A West Bloomfield Township woman is liable for financial damages in the May 2012 death of her teen grandson, but her husband is not responsible and cannot be sued, an Oakland Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Sandra Layne, now 76, is serving a 20-40 year prison sentence for second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Jonathan Hoffman during an argument in her home.

Layne claimed self-defense in the shooting and the matter is to be considered by the Michigan Court of Appeals next month, according to one of her attorneys. Hoffman’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages against Layne and her 88-year-old husband, Fred. The estate alleged Fred should have known about his wife’s ability to kill Hoffman and had a duty to contact police.

No trial date has been set, but Judge Colleen O’Brien ruled Wednesday Layne’s conviction makes her liable for any damages. She also ruled there is no evidence Fred Layne could have prevented the slaying.

Fred Layne’s attorney, Brian Casey, told O’Brien his client had no idea his wife had bought a handgun and hidden it inside the house.

Thomas Vincent, who represents Sandra Layne in the lawsuit, said that while his client has been found liable, she “doesn’t have a nickel.”

“She has faith the Court of Appeals will agree with her argument and reverse her conviction,” he said.

Layne testified during her trial she loved Hoffman who she and her husband took in when the teen’s parents and sister moved to Arizona. She said they became frightened by his friends and his use of drugs, including “Spice,” a synthetic drug.

During his stay, Hoffman had overdosed on drugs at least once and was charged with drug possession and placed on probation.

On the day of his death Hoffman tested positive for Spice and was facing jail time. Layne, Hoffman’s biological grandmother, drove him to the testing site and later argued with him. Back at home she told her husband to take their dog for a walk.

Minutes later the argument between Hoffman and his grandmother turned violent and she claimed she went for a handgun when Hoffman threatened to take her car. The 130-pound Layne claims the teen kicked at her and she fired at him in self-defense. Evidence, including a 911 call made by Hoffman, indicates his grandmother shot him during two altercations. After one shooting, she offered him a glass of water.