Jury deliberations began Tuesday morning in the trial of an Encinitas man who shot and killed a neighbor with whom he had an ongoing dispute over the cutting of bushes and trees on the defendant’s vacant lot in Olivenhain.

Michael Vilkin, murder suspect. Photo credit: CBS8.com
Michael Vilkin, murder suspect. Photo credit: CBS8.com

Michael Vilkin, 62, is charged with 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 he shot the victim in self-defense.

Deputy District Attorney David Uyar told jurors that 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 the victim walked up an easement and approached Vilkin, the defendant “calmly and cooly” shot him in the abdomen from close range then fired again, hitting Upton 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.”

Berkon 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 found near Upton’s body.

Vilkin faces 35 years to life in prison if convicted in the case being heard in Vista Superior Court.

— City News Service