Suspect in fatal shooting tells 10News he acted in self-defense: Man accused of killing John Upton

Michael Vilkin being held without bail

VISTA, Calif. - The man suspected of fatally shooting a well-known filmmaker in Encinitas told 10News Friday that he acted in self-defense.

Michael Vilkin, who is being held at the Vista Detention Facility, told 10News reporter John Carroll that he shot 56-year-old John Upton because he had no choice.

Vilkin, 61, of Encinitas, was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the shooting that occurred in the 2900 block of Lone Jack Road shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday.

Vilkin said that there has been an ongoing, yearlong dispute between him and the victim over trimming shrubs and trees on a vacant property. Vilkin owns the property and Upton lived next door.

Within the past week, Vilkin said that Upton had threatened him and that he called the San Diego Sheriff's Department to report it. That incident was the reason he had a gun with him when he went back to his property Thursday, said Vilkin.

Vilkin said Upton was obsessive about privacy and had demanded he not cut the greenery, even though Vilkin said the greenery is on Vilkin's property.  

10News called the sheriff's Homicide Unit to confirm Vilkin's story, but they said they were not commenting on the matter.

On the day of the shooting, Vilkin said he was trying to cut some shrubbery on his own property, but Upton came out of his house and confronted him.

According to Vilkin, Upton pulled out a gun and told him to stop cutting.

Vilkin, who was also armed, said he pulled out his own weapon and shot Upton once in the stomach. To his surprise, Vilkin said Upton kept coming at him and that's when he said he shot Upton gain, this time in the head.

"I shot him; you know, I predicted him to fall immediately because this is a .44-caliber Magnum. He did not, he did two or three steps toward me and then I shot him in the head," Vilkin said.

"It was self-defense; I did not go to him. He came to me threatening and pulled a gun at me. I did not go to him. I stayed away on my property," Vilkin added.

Vilkin, who was booked on first degree murder charges, is scheduled to appear in court April 2.

Upton, is a well-known filmmaker who gained fame for his crusade to rescue orphans kept in nightmarish conditions in Romania during the communist dictatorship of the late Nicolae Ceausescu.

Asked if he feels badly for killing Upton, Vilkin called the matter unfortunate but then quickly added, "I'm glad I'm alive."  

He said he's not going to retain an attorney because he feels since he's innocent he doesn't need one.  

He's due to be arraigned in Vista court on Tuesday. He's currently being held without bail.

Refresh this page and watch 10News Reporter Allison Ash on 10News at 5:00 p.m. for the latest details in this story.

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