Juror dismissed in Michael Vilkin murder trial

VISTA, Calif. - Deliberations restarted Thursday afternoon in the trial of an Encinitas man accused of killing his neighbor due to juror misconduct.

According to court officials, a juror in the Michael Vilkin murder trial was removed for doing experiments at home using cardboard tubes and a yardstick. Jurors are not allowed to do that sort of thing outside of court.

An alternate juror was brought on and deliberations were restarted from the beginning later in the day.

Anthony Columbo, a trial attorney not part of this case, explained to 10News, "One of the things they are absolutely not to consider is anything outside of the evidence they've heard in court."

The juror had the items in his backpack, 10News learned.

Vilkin wanted to keep the juror on the panel because he thought this showed he is thinking through the facts. Defense attorney Rich Berkon objected to his staying on the jury, though, voicing fear that he was unstable.

Judge Robert Kearney quickly ruled, saying, "After a hearing with both sides present, a juror has been dismissed from the Vilkin jury for juror misconduct."

Columbo added, "This juror was doing exactly what the court admonished him not to do and that's experiments outside of the evidence that was heard and then was trying to persuade other jurors with these outside experiments."

Vilkin, 62, faces 35 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in the March 28, 2013, death of 56-year-old John Upton, a documentary filmmaker who gained fame for his crusade to rescue Romanian orphans living in nightmarish conditions during the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Vilkin, a former economist from the Soviet Union, testified that he shot Upton self-defense.

Deputy District Attorney David Uyar told jurors that on the day of the shooting, Vilkin showed up with two workers to cut bushes and shrubbery on his property adjacent to Upton's rental home.

When Upton walked up an easement and approached Vilkin, the defendant "calmly and cooly" shot him in the abdomen from close range and then fired again, hitting him in the head, according to the prosecutor.

Arriving officers found Vilkin's 44-caliber Magnum in a case, but no other weapons were found near Upton's body, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Richard Berkon told the jury that the killing was "justified." He said Upton had been bullying, intimidating and cursing at Vilkin for months because he didn't like the defendant clearing trees and ruining the view.

The day of the shooting, as his workers cleared brush, Vilkin stood up on a hill and put his gun in his waistband, just in case Upton came out to confront him, his attorney said.

About 30 minutes later, Upton approached saying "Do me a favor!" and Vilkin thought he saw a gun in his hand and shot him, Berkon said.    When the bullet didn't stop Upton, Vilkin shot him a second time, Berkon told the jury.

After the shooting, Vilkin called 911 and told authorities that he was the person who fired the shots because "he had nothing to hide," his attorney said.

A cellphone was located near Upton's body.

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