If you called central casting and asked for the quintessential American grandmother, they’d send you 76-year-old Sandy Vinge. Glowing with life, she is sweeter than a Christmas cookie.
But Vinge comes with some words of warning: Don’t cross her.
Jeffrey Nelson, 20, is a small-time thug facing a big-time prison sentence that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life because he thought the sweet little old lady was a pushover. One year after kidnapping Vinge in her own car and brutally beating her while holding her captive for 26 hours, Nelson was convicted Monday of torture and attempted murder, thanks in part to Vinge’s testimony against him. He pleaded guilty to a list of other charges before the trial and could get two life sentences at sentencing in February.
‘A bad boy’
The feisty grandmother had no fear of testifying, nor did she have any qualms about helping put the young man behind bars, possibly for life.
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“I’m just glad that they found him guilty, because he is a bad boy,” Vinge told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday from her La Mesa, Calif., home.
She faced her attacker down in court, she said, because she felt she had an obligation to do so. “I wanted to make sure he didn’t do this to anybody else. Now I can get on with my life because I don’t have him to deal with anymore.”
At the same time, Vinge, who has three sons and two granddaughters, said she feels sorry for Nelson’s parents.
“I know it would break my heart if they had to go away in prison,” Vinge told Lauer, referring to her own sons. Regarding Nelson’s parents, she continued: “I feel sorry for them. I know they’re hurting. They probably didn’t know he was the way he was.”
At the same time, she doesn’t think that her abductor has learned anything from his trial and conviction.
“He just kept looking at the ceiling and looking like he was bored and thought he shouldn’t be there, I’m sure,” Vinge said of Nelson’s behavior during the trial. “Now he has the rest of [his] life to think about being so mean.”
Beaten and bound
A year ago, Vinge had sat in her home with her son, Daniel, at her side, and told Lauer about her horrifying ordeal. Just one week removed from the Dec. 8, 2008, kidnapping, her face still bore ugly purple bruises from being savagely beaten by Nelson and another young attacker as they drove aimlessly around in Vinge’s car with the grandmother trussed up with duct tape in the rear cargo compartment.
Video: Grandmother survives beating, kidnapping Nelson had come to Vinge’s house earlier that day and had sold her a vacuum cleaner. He came back that evening and asked to use the phone, saying his girlfriend had thrown him out of the house. An open woman who believed in helping everyone she could, Vinge opened her door to the young man. When she showed him the phone and turned her back to let him make his phone call, he strangled her into unconsciousness with the cord, bound her with duct tape, and took off with her in her own car.
At the time, Vinge, who was denied food, water and bathroom breaks during the 26 hours she was held captive, told Lauer how she had prayed for God to either take her life or set her free. She had repeated the prayer to her deceased husband, Don.
Vinge feels her prayers were answered, because after she began praying, a policeman pulled Nelson over for a routine traffic violation. The cop saw Vinge trying to wave a bound hand in the back of the car and arrested the young man along with two others, Luis Lomeli Osborne, 18, and a young woman identified as Antoinette Marie Baker, 18. Osborne, now 19, faces trial next month on charges that include torture, and Vinge said she will testify if asked to. Baker was released after charges against her were dismissed.
Vinge, who loves to dance, still feels the effects of the beating and having been bound for more than a day while bouncing around in the back of her car. While being treated for her injuries, she learned she had also suffered a minor heart attack while being held.
“My legs hurt really bad, and I guess I had a mild heart attack when I was there from the stress, and I have to take heart medicine now, but that’s it,” she told Lauer. Somehow she made the distressing recitation sound cheerful, insisting that she is “feeling fine.”
Still, Vinge also struggles with emotional trauma.
She said she has learned not to let anyone she doesn’t know into the house, but with one exception: “Little Girl Scouts selling cookies. But you know they’re harmless.
“That goes for you, too, Matt,” Vinge added to Lauer. “Don’t you let people into your house that you don‘t know.”
Lauer assured Vinge he would not let strangers into his house. He then asked Vinge what she is thankful for this holiday season.
“I’m just glad that the trial is over and I can have a nice Christmas with my friends and family,” Vinge replied. Then she turned the question back on her interviewer: “What are you thankful for?” she asked Lauer.
“I’m thankful for you, Sandy,” Lauer said. “You are a present to us all.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints