Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"I'm going to die. Help."

They say there are three versions of a violent event: the accused's, the victim's, and the truth.

When the violence results in the victim's death, we are left with only two of those three---usually.

In the matter of the trial of grandmother Sandra Layne, a 911 call gave a glimpse into the victim's version. And it was enough to convict Layne of second degree murder.

The 75-year-old Layne, from West Bloomfield, was convicted the other day in the killing of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman. She shot the troubled Hoffman six times last May 18, in her home. She claimed self defense---that she was fearful for her own life.

The teen had been living with Layne and her 87-year-old husband while the kid's parents (divorced) were in Arizona to help tend to a daughter with a brain tumor.

The jury didn't buy Layne's plea of self defense.

They didn't embrace Layne, really, when she took the stand in her own defense, which is always a risky move. Layne's defense team apparently gambled that the sight and sound of a 75-year-old woman conveying her fear of her own grandson (due to proven drug use among other things) would sway the jury into acquittal.

But Layne shot Hoffman six times. She didn't try to call the police before she broke out her gun. Nor did she call them after she showed Hoffman the weapon, presuming her intent was to use the gun to scare her grandson.

A 911 call can be a powerful tool, both for the defense and the prosecution, depending how the events unfolded. It's even more powerful when the dead speak, as Hoffman did for the jury.

Five words were chilling.

"I'm going to die," Hoffman told the dispatcher in the call. "Help."

I'm going to die. Help.

Those words from a dying teen trumped anything Layne could offer up on the stand.


Sandra Layne reacts after being convicted of second degree murder in the shooting death of her 17-year-old grandson, Jonathan Hoffman


"They played the 911 tape over and over again," said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton, who tried the case and interviewed jurors after the verdict. "And they arrived at second-degree murder."

Layne wasn't liked well enough by the jury, and after the verdict, it turns out that she wasn't all that well-liked by her own family, either.

Layne's son-in-law, Michael Hoffman, said, "I never liked her. She was always a thorn in my side."

OK, that was the son-in-law. But even Layne's own daughter, Jennifer Hoffman, said, "I know my son is in heaven, and this is a place that (Layne) will never see." She added that instead of calling Layne mother, Hoffman would "like to call her monster."

The case sparked some interest because of the relationship between the accused and the victim, and the extreme ages. A teen aged victim and an accused grandmother is not your garden variety case.

A Lifetime movie? Perhaps.

Layne will be sentenced on April 18. She could be in prison past her 90th birthday, given the charges.

A 17-year-old boy dead, a 75-year-old woman going to prison, where she will likely perish.

No happy ending to any of that.

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