A sometimes sobbing West Bloomfield grandmother told a packed courtroom she was sorry she had shot her teenage grandson to death, begging the judge not to give her a long prison sentence.
“I don’t want to die in jail or prison,” 75-year-old Sandra Layne cried Thursday in Oakland County Circuit Court. “Oh, God! Oh, God! I don’t know what to say. I am so sorry.”
But Judge Denise Langford Morris exceeded sentencing guidelines and ordered Layne, who had no criminal history, to spend 20-40 years in prison. She was convicted of second-degree murder last month for fatally shooting her grandson Jonathan Hoffman, 17, in Layne’s West Bloomfield condominium on May 18. Guidelines called for 12-20 years in prison.
The sentencing brought to a close a case that shocked metro Detroit, garnered national attention and tore apart a family already teetering on the edge.
“This is a tragic case for everyone involved,” Langford Morris said before announcing the sentence. “This is a tragedy for the community. Grandmothers are supposed to be protected, and grandmothers are supposed to protect.”
As the sentence was read, Layne turned to look at her daughter Jennifer Hoffman, Jonathan’s mother. Hoffman, who called her mother “pure evil,” smiled broadly and gave her mother a thumbs-up sign.
Layne, crying, turned away.
“There are a lot of questions in this case,” Langford Morris said. “How could this happen and why? What’s troubling is why you didn’t call the police first before you walked up the stairs, before you obtained the Glock in your hand. You could have called police.”
“Why did you keep shooting him, and how did you keep shooting him? You didn’t have to keep shooting him.”
Layne, testifying on her own behalf during the trial, had said she grew fearful of her grandson, bought a gun and used it weeks later during an argument with Jonathan, who was threatening to run away after testing positive for synthetic marijuana.
His divorced parents, Jennifer and Michael Hoffman, have pledged never to forgive Layne. At Thursday’s sentencing, Jennifer Hoffman’s voice trembled with rage when she told the court what the killing had done to her and Jonathan’s younger sister, Jessica.
“Now I will never know the man he would become, I will never see him graduate,” she said. “Now I have to celebrate his birthday at his grave site.”
She said she suffers from depression and is traumatized by the frantic 911 call her son made as his grandmother continued to shoot him.
“The 911 call plays endless inside my head,’’ she said. “The hardest part as a mother is knowing that he died in terror at the hands of a person he once loved and trusted.”
Michael Hoffman did not attend the sentencing, but submitted a statement read by Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton that said the killing turned his life upside down.
“My prison is every bit as confining as that (in) which Sandra Layne will soon be confined,” the statement said. “He was a gentle and loving soul. I miss my son every day.”
When asked whether she wanted to speak, Layne stood unsteadily in her orange jail jumpsuit, her once tinted red hair now fully gray and pulled into a ponytail. In a rambling, sometimes tearful statement, she told the judge she loved the boy and never intended to harm him.
“My relationship with my grandson was pure and simple. I loved him from the minute I held him in my arms,” she said.
She said she regretted allowing her grandson to live with her so that he could finish high school after his divorced parents moved to Arizona. She said she underestimated what it would take to care for the troubled teen, who was using drugs, becoming more violent and on probation at the time he was killed.
“If I could go back, I never would have let him come here, I would have said to his parents, ‘He’s your responsibility,’ ” she said.
The killing divided the family — and the courtroom. Jennifer Hoffman sat on the right with other family members and friends who want to see Layne die in prison. Layne’s husband, Fred Layne, 87, sat on the left, with Layne supporters. They left without talking to reporters.
Layne’s defense attorney, Jerome Sabbota,
said he was disappointed and pledged to appeal.
“Look, this is a death sentence for her,” he said. “She doesn’t deserve to die in prison.”