Calif. Grandma Sandy Vinge Survived 26 Hours in Car Trunk; Jury Shows No Mercy on Attacker
Photo: Sandy Vinge on NBC's "Today" show Dec. 16, 2008.
At one point, Vinge asked God to save her or let her die.
"I was tired of being left in the back of the car and being picked on," she said. "I was just tired of it, and I just wanted to die, you know, or be saved."
Now, 20-year-old Jeffrey Nelson, one of her three alleged assailants, has been convicted of torture and attempted murder. Jurors in El Cajon, Calif., reached their verdict Monday. Prosecutors say Nelson pleaded guilty to 10 other charges before trial. He could receive multiple life sentences when he is sentenced Feb. 1 by El Cajon Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos.
During the trial, Natalie "Sandy" Herbst-Vinge testified that she was in the fetal position, with her mouth and eyes duct-taped, her hands held against her stomach and her knees bound together when a law enforcement officer stopped the car and asked the occupants for a license and registration.
She said she heard a female in the car say, "The glove compartment is locked," even though it wasn't.
The officer then let them go, the victim testified.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood said outside court he never found an officer who pulled the car over.
The victim said she tried and failed to get the attention of someone by kicking at the sides of the car at what she believed was a gas station. That was in response to hearing the voice of a man with a southern accent.
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The woman, who seemed on the witness stand to project the image of the kindly, gray-haired and soft-spoken grandmother, said Nelson, who once sold her a vacuum, came to her La Mesa house the night of Dec. 8 last year and asked to use a telephone. He then choked her and she awoke on the floor, bound by the tape.
"I said, `Why are you doing this to me?' He said to be still and 'I'll take you to the hospital, I just need your keys,"' Herbst-Vinge said.
He dragged her to the car and put her in the back, which had a covered cargo area instead of a trunk, she said.
She suffered numerous injuries by his "driving quite frantically," which caused her to "bounce around" and hit the sides of the car, the woman said.
Nelson eventually picked up two other people, Luis Lomeli Osborne and Antoinette Baker, and they drove around for hours.
Herbst-Vinge said they denied her requests for water and a "ladies room" break, and the defendant turned the stereo volume up louder every time she asked for something.
At one point, the car stopped and Nelson and Osborne slugged her on each side of the face, she said.
"I could see the fists coming," Herbst-Vinge said. "It was so scary."
Sometime later, a deputy she called "my sheriff" while wearing a broad smile, pulled the car over for a traffic violation in Lakeside. It was late on the night after she was kidnapped.
She said she stuck her fingers through the cargo cover and heard the deputy say "somebody's back there." When she heard the defendant being ordered face first to the ground, she said she knew she'd been saved.
Herbst-Vinge suffered numerous bruises and other injuries that required hospitalization.
Osborne, 19, faces a separate trial next year for torture and other counts -- but not attempted murder. Charges against Baker were dismissed after a preliminary hearing.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Bart Sheela told jurors the incident was an "unformulated" and "half-baked" scheme to commit a robbery, but his client had no intention to torture or kill the woman.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood told jurors that a shovel found by the deputy in the back of the car showed there was an intent to kill her.
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