Encinitas man charged with murder in neighbor's shooting death - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Encinitas man charged with murder in neighbor's shooting death

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VISTA (CNS) - A 61-year-old Encinitas man accused of gunning down a documentary filmmaker outside the victim's Olivenhain home following a months-long dispute over foliage in the neighborhood pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Michael Vilkin was ordered held on $5 million bail in the death of John Upton, who gained fame for his crusade to rescue Romanian orphans living in nightmarish conditions during the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Upton, 56, died on a dirt path in his yard in the 2900 block of Lone Jack Road shortly after 9 a.m. last Thursday. The slaying evidently resulted from a running dispute between the two men, said sheriff's Lt. James Bolwerk.

Deputy District Attorney David Uyar said Tuesday that Vilkin had a crew clearing brush in an empty 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 the defendant, and when he got to within 10 feet of Vilkin, the defendant fired twice, striking the victim in the abdomen and the head, the prosecutor alleged.

Upton's girlfriend, who was in their home and heard the gunshots, ran toward the victim 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.

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

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

Vilkin said 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. The suspect said he shot the filmmaker in the abdomen and head with a .44-caliber Magnum pistol to protect himself.

"I did not go to him," Vilkin said. "He came to me threatening and pulled a gun (on) me. I did not go to him. I stayed (following the shooting)."

Upton's brother praised his late sibling as "a good man" who "saved a lot of kids."

The filmmaker, a father of three, showed video footage of the orphans to couples and succeeded in getting dozens of the children adopted. He also gained the attention of influential activists, inspiring billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson, actress Jessica Lange and lawmakers to help rescue some 5,000 youngsters from Romania.

Vilkin faces 25 years to life if convicted of murder. He will be back in court April 10 for a preliminary hearing.

 

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