Jana Layman had asked her housemate, Solomon Whitt, to stop showing physical affection to her two children. When he failed to abide by her request, the 41-year-old mother told him he needed to move out, according to King County prosecutors.
Jealous that Layman’s new boyfriend was set to replace him as a father figure to the children and frantic about finding a new place to live, Whitt, 25, attacked Layman from behind on Jan. 10, strangling her and throwing her down a flight of stairs, according to the first-degree murder charge filed against Whitt last week.
Whitt then staged the scene to look like she had accidentally fallen, later walking to a nearby Trader Joe’s to establish an alibi before he returned home and called 911, the charges said.
Though Seattle fire department medics performed CPR and restored Layman’s pulse, she never regained consciousness and died three days later at Harborview Medical Center.
Whitt was arrested at Seattle Police headquarters Jan. 19 and was booked into the King County Jail, where he remains held in lieu of $2 million bail, jail and court records show. He is to be arraigned Feb. 6.
“The defendant was so fearful and anxious at the proposition of moving out of the house and losing his perceived relationship with the victim’s children, that he killed the victim and coldly and calculatedly attempted to cover up the murder,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner wrote in charging papers. ” … The defendant lied with ease to the victim’s mother, 911 operator, medics and the Seattle Police Department about what had occurred in an attempt to avoid responsibility for this brutal murder.”
According to the charges:
Layman and Whitt both worked for the Salvation Army’s after-school program but had met years earlier, when Whitt had been a basketball coach to her children. He moved into her house in the West Seattle Junction in December 2018 after Layman had separated from her husband.
Detectives learned through Layman’s family and friends that she’d become concerned with Whitt’s “inappropriate contact” with her children, especially her 10-year-old daughter.
“Although she asked Whitt to respect boundaries with her children, Whitt continued his behavior and in turn she decided to ask him to find a new place to live,” a detective wrote in charging papers.
Layman asked a mutual acquaintance to help get Whitt out of the house Jan. 8 so she could privately talk to her daughter and 9-year-old son about her concerns. The next afternoon, Layman told the same acquaintance she had asked Whitt to move out that morning.
“[I]t is clear that Whitt would have been quite upset by this request, as he was very invested in his relationship with Jana’s children,” the detective wrote. ” … It also became clear Whitt was upset and angry about Jana’s new boyfriend possibly taking his/Whitt’s place in the children’s lives and that he/Whitt would be pushed out.”
Layman had a medical appointment in downtown Seattle at 1 p.m. on Jan. 10, and was on her way out the door when Whitt walked up behind her and wrapped his arm around her neck, the charges said. They fell to the floor and Whitt continued to strangle Layman until he thought she was dead. He then dragged her to the stairs leading into the basement and pushed her down head first, according to the charges.
The charges said Whitt removed Layman’s coat, purse and shoes and strategically placed them around the house, then threw laundry down the stairs and positioned a basket next to her so it would appear she had fallen.
At 12:31 p.m., Layman’s mother texted Whitt, telling him she was letting herself into the house to look for the children’s music books. Whitt helped her look and told her he hadn’t seen Layman but thought Layman had “just stepped out” and would be home shortly. Layman’s mother left a couple minutes later. Whitt then bought lunch at Trader Joe’s and returned home, where he called 911 at 12:47 p.m.
As medics worked on Layman, Seattle police questioned Whitt, who claimed he came home and found Layman at the bottom of the stairs. But a sergeant noticed Whitt appeared to have fresh scratches on his arms and redness on his neck and told homicide detectives he was concerned about the circumstances of Layman’s injuries, the charging papers said.
When the detectives later went to the hospital to check on Layman, they noticed suspicious bruising and a thin cut on her neck, injuries that were inconsistent with a fall. After Layman’s death, an autopsy showed she had been strangled, and her death was ruled a homicide.
During a search of Layman’s house, detectives found Whitt’s journal, which documented his “clear disdain” for Layman and how she parented her children, according to charging papers. The charges include an excerpt from a journal entry dated Dec. 29: “Part of me wants her to burn in hell for all eternity … Each day it gets harder to live near to her sin and still tell her children to respect her. My thoughts turn violent when I think about how this could be solved rationally.”
Police said Whitt admitted killing Layman in a lengthy interview with detectives, according to the charges.
According to her online obituary, Layman was a West Seattle High School graduate and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Northwest College of Art in Poulsbo.
“She was full of joy, adventure and fun-loving. Her family, faith, and love of nature (especially the Puget Sound beach) was the focus of her vibrant, colorful artwork — ceramic, oil painting, water color, etc.,” the obituary said, noting Layman also had worked as an art teacher and pottery instructor.
A memorial service is planned for noon Saturday at Trinity Church, 7551 35th Ave. S.W.