A conspiracy count was dismissed today against two young men charged in the kidnap-beating of a 76-year-old La Mesa woman kept in her car trunk for 26 hours, but most of the other felony charges were upheld.
Jeffrey Edward Nelson, 19, and Luis Lomeli Osborne, 18, are accused of keeping Natalie Herbst-Vinge bound by duct tape in the trunk of her car without food or water.
At the defendants' preliminary hearing in February, Herbst-Vinge testified that Nelson got into her house last Dec. 8 by asking to use a telephone and then started to choke her from behind.
She was punched and threatened during her ordeal, according to prosecutors, and was finally when a sheriff's deputy pulled the vehicle over for a traffic violation.
A photograph displayed at the hearing showed the victim's eyes swollen shut, her chin severely bruised and numerous other facial injuries.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Judge Lantz Lewis dismissed attempted murder and torture charges against the men and threw out all charges against a third defendant, Antoinette Baker.
In March, however, prosecutor Paul Greenwood added the conspiracy count and refiled the torture charge against Nelson and Osborne. He also refiled the attempted murder count against Nelson only.
In today's hearing before Judge Allen Preckel, defense attorneys sought to have those counts thrown out.
Regarding the conspiracy charges, the judge ruled there was no evidence that Osborne agreed to help Nelson kill Herbst-Vinge or had the intent to kill her.
He said the evidence met the legal element in the torture charge of inflicting pain to persuade the victim to do something.
"Nelson used physical force to maintain control over the victim to keep her quiet," Preckel said.
The judge also found that Nelson had an intent to kill the victim and took steps to do so by "denying her sustenance" and punching her.
The defendants face a number of other charges -- either together or individually -- including carjacking, grand theft from an elder, false imprisonment of an elder and robbery.
In her preliminary hearing testimony, Herbst-Vinge said she prayed during her ordeal that God would either save her or let her die.
Nelson sold the victim a vacuum cleaner about a month and a half before the attack. Herbst-Vinge said he came to her house the day of the kidnapping, ostensibly to make sure it was operating correctly, but left when a male friend of hers dropped by for coffee.
He returned around 10 p.m. that night and asked to use the phone, saying his girlfriend broke up with him, she said.
The prosecution alleges that Nelson picked up Osborne and Baker at some point and drove, with the victim in the trunk, to Ocean Beach, where she was punched by the defendants.