One Suspect Cried, Another Rolled His Eyes

A judge ruled the three suspects who investigators say beat, tied up and abducted an elderly woman from her La Mesa home will be held on $2 million bond each.

Luis Osbourne, 18, Jeffrey Nelson, 19 and Antoinette Baker, 19 were arrested Wednesday for abducting and beating Natalie Herbst-Vinge, San Diego Sheriff's deputies said.

Nelson cleaned Herbst-Vinge's carpet and then, according to prosecutors, returned to rob her. Over the next 26 hours the three suspects are accused of kidnapping and beating the victim, locking her in the trunk of a car and using her stolen credit cards.

“This is the most egregious baffling set of circumstances I’ve ever come across,” said Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood.

The charges range from robbery, kidnapping, forced imprisonment of an elder, physical abuse of an elder and torture. If convicted of the torture charges, all three could face life sentences.

Nelson is also charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon with force likely to cause great bodily injury, burglary, carjacking and kidnapping during a carjacking.

Family members described Friday's court appearance as a separate form of torture. “It was the most difficult thing any of us have had to do," said the victim's granddaughter Candace Mahoney. "It was its own form of torture to have to sit there to watch him (Jeffrey Nelson) roll his eyes and shake his head.”

Suspect Antoinette Baker cried in court. Investigators originally didn't book her on the same charges as the men but prosecutors say Baker was in the car and didn't do anything to help Herbst-Vinge.

Nelson went to the victim's home on Resmar Place in unincorporated La Mesa to clean the carpet. Instead, the son says, the suspect sold his mother a vacuum cleaner for $2,300, came back to thank her Monday, saying the sale helped him win a trip to Hawaii. That night, the suspect returned again saying he needed to use the phone because he had broken up with his girlfriend. That's when Herbst-Vinge's son says the suspect attacked his mother, bound her with duct tape, and dragged her to her Dodge wagon.

When Herbst-Vinge woke up, two other suspects were also in the vehicle according to the victim's son. Herbst-Vinge chewed through the duct tape and screamed for help while they were at a gas station, to no avail. The suspects then parked the car for the night, leaving Herbst-Vinge inside, said investigators. The next day, the suspects returned, then drove around the County with Herbst-Vinge in the trunk.

Deputies said they tried to pull over the wagon for running a red light on Tangerine Street in El Cajon shortly after midnight Wednesday, but the driver refused to yield and eventually managed to elude officers. Shortly afterward, deputies spotted the vehicle with the suspects inside, who fled on foot. Osbourne was taken into custody immediately, Nelson and Baker were arrested after a manhunt in the area. Deputies found Herbst-Vinge tied up in the back of the car.

“This is highly unusual ... especially for the amount of time that we’re looking at here -- with several days in one vehicle, that’s a bit unusual, and for someone who’s 75,” Sgt. Mark Varnau said. 

A shovel was found in the back of the car, but investigators say they’re not jumping to any conclusions.

“You could infer that that’s there for some particular reason other than gardening, but it may simply belong to the victim,” Varnau said.

Thursday, the victim's son allowed cameras into his mother's hospital room.

Herbst-Vinge's face was covered in black and blue bruises and was very swollen. According to her son, she's suffering from blurred vision and is having difficulty controlling one eye. Her skin is ripped and she has scabbing around her wrists where she was bound with duct tape. She did not want to speak according to photographers who visited her.

Herbst-Vinge's son says the mother of three and grandmother of two is refusing medication but wanted to show people that she is okay and doesn't want people to worry about her.

Mahoney told reporters Friday that her grandmother may have suffered a mild heart attack during the attack. She's still hospitalized at Sharp Hospital but has told her family she wants to work as an advocate against elder abuse when she fully recovers.

The next court appearance for the suspects will be a preliminary hearing scheduled December 29, 2008.

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