PONTIAC, Mich. — A 75-year-old Detroit-area woman on trial for killing her grandson stumbled Thursday when a juror asked a key question: Why confront a rebellious teenager with a gun?
Sandra Layne didn't give a direct answer so the judge put the question to her again.
"That's just what I thought. I don't know why. I just didn't know what to do," Layne said between loud, heavy sobs.
There is no dispute that Layne fatally shot Jonathan Hoffman, 17, last spring at her home in Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township. Charged with first-degree murder, she could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted, but she insists it was an act of self-defense after months of taking care of a troubled teen.
Layne finished two days of emotional, tearful testimony. She repeated her claim that she felt threatened by Hoffman, saying he kicked her and struck her in the head before she shot him. She said he wanted to get out of Michigan and demanded her car and $2,000 after flunking a drug test required under his probation in a marijuana case.
But on cross-examination, Layne acknowledged she didn't immediately tell police about the assault when they arrested her last May. A nurse said there was no evidence nor mention of it during an exam at a hospital.
"She said he's a good boy. He would never hurt us. He would never hurt anyone," nurse Jennifer Colby testified.
Jurors who were given an opportunity to ask questions wanted to know why Layne didn't call 911 after she shot Hoffman and why she rushed to the basement where there were phones. The question was asked because Layne has said she didn't want to kill her grandson.
"When I was in the basement, all I was thinking about was I had to hide. I was terrified," she testified. "Somebody would have done something else but that's what I did."
Layne emerged from the basement and shot Hoffman again while he was pleading with a 911 operator for help.
Hoffman had been living with Layne since 2011 when his parents divorced and moved to Arizona. She said it was a difficult arrangement, especially after her grandson was treated in a hospital for using hallucinogenic drugs.
Layne said Hoffman was deeply upset on the day of the shooting after testing positive for so-called synthetic marijuana. She said she had to stop the car three times on the way home to calm him down.
"He's got to sit down. We've got to make a plan," Layne told the jury. "He's got to talk to people, his mother, his father. We're screaming at each other. He said, `I'm getting out of here. They're going to put me in jail.' ... He had to stay here. We had to resolve things here."
Layne said she shot the teen during another argument later at her home. She acknowledged in her testimony that she told police that she had "murdered" Hoffman.
"I recall saying a few things. I'm screaming, hysterical," Layne said.
The jury will hear closing arguments Monday. Hoffman's father, Michael Hoffman, was in court but declined to comment.
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