Trial to begin in Vilkin murder case

VISTA - Opening statements are expected to get underway Wednesday in trial of a man accused of gunning a documentary filmmaker outside the victim’s home in the Encinitas neighborhood of Olivenhain in March 2013.

Michael Vilkin, 62, is charged with one count each of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the March 28, 2013, shooting death of 56-year-old John Upton.

The shooting allegedly followed a months-long dispute over shrubbery at a vacant lot owned by Vilkin, which was next door to Upton’s home in the 2900 block of Lone Jack Road.

At a preliminary hearing in September, Deputy District Attorney David Uyar said that Vilkin had a crew clearing brush in a vacant lot near the victim's home when the shooting occurred.

The victim realized his car was in the way and asked the crew if they wanted him to move it, Uyar said.

Upton walked up a dirt road toward Vilkin, he said. When Upton got within 10 feet of Vilkin, Vilkin defendant fired twice, striking Upton in the abdomen and the head, the prosecutor alleged.

Upton's girlfriend, Evelyn Zeller, who heard the gunshots from inside Upton's home, ran toward Uptown but was stopped by Vilkin, according to Uyar.

"When the girlfriend got close to the victim, who was lying in the roadway, the defendant pointed the weapon at her and told her not to come any closer," Uyar alleged.

Zeller testified that as she approached the path, she recognized Upton.

“I saw his head in his blood," she said.

She testified that Vilkin said, “'Don’t get any [expletive] closer!'"

Zeller added, “All I remember is this: his arm stretched out with a gun pointed at me. All I said was, ‘Oh my God!’ Then time stood still. I wasn’t scared for my life. All I saw was his body, no spirit in the body. I turned and threw my hands up and ran back in the house to call 911."

Uyar said Upton was unarmed and had only his cellphone as he walked toward Vilkin. The prosecutor said Upton made no aggressive moves toward the defendant.

In a jailhouse interview, Vilkin, who owns a vacant lot next to Upton's property, told 10News he fired the shots in self-defense.

Vilkin told 10News he was trimming shrubbery – an activity that he called the source of the ill will between the men –when Upton confronted him and demanded that he stop, then pulled a gun. Vilkin said he shot Upton with a .44-caliber Magnum pistol to protect himself.

Upton, a father of three, has helped get dozens of the children adopted. He also gained the attention of British billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson, actress Jessica Lange and lawmakers to help rescue some 5,000 youngsters from Romania.

Jury selection was expected to conclude sometime today in Vista Superior Court, before the opening statements got underway.

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