Trial begins for man accused in neighbor's murder - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trial begins for man accused in neighbor's murder

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VISTA (CBS 8) - Opening statements are set to start Wednesday in a case involving an Encinitas man accused of killing his neighbor over a property dispute that lasted months.

Michael Vilkin faces 35 years to life in prison if convicted of murder. The 61-year-old is accused of pulling the trigger and killing John Upton, 56, a filmmaker known for his efforts to rescue Romanian orphans in the 1990s.

Vilkin, once a citizen of the Soviet Union and an economist, said he's not guilty. The dispute dates back to March of last year in Olivenhain.

Police say an argument over a 10-foot-wide access path ended in bloodshed and Upton, a father of three, dead at his rental home on Lone Jack Road. Vilkin owned the empty lot next door.

"There's no reason that would be reason to do this to him," brother Michael James Upton said.

Just after the shooting, Vilkin called 911 and claimed to detectives that Upton had a gun. They never found a weapon by his body. A couple of workers hired to prune trees by Vilkin testified previously. They said he told them he was carrying a gun and would take care of it if someone approached.

One worker said Upton was calm and his hands were empty, although Vilkin was annoyed.

Upton's girlfriend, Evelyn Zeller, told the court she heard two gunshots and found Upton's lifeless body on the ground outside their rental house.

"He's ruined the lives of a lot of people and he's ruined his own life and I hope he pays for it," Zeller said.

Vilkin is being held on $5 million bail.

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