Neighbor's Tree-Trimming "Didn't Make Much Sense:" Victim's Girlfriend

“We would be leaving very soon. We were closing escrow on the new house. It just didn’t matter. It made no difference,” said victim’s girlfriend

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The girlfriend and son of a man killed in a neighbor dispute took the stand Monday in the trial of John Upton. NBC 7's Liberty Zabala has more about their testimony.

    A North County man’s pattern of removing trees and brush “didn’t make much sense” witnesses testified Monday in the deadly neighbor dispute trial.

    John Upton's son and girlfriend described events leading up to the March 2013 shooting in the Olivenhain neighborhood.

    Upton, 56, was shot by his neighbor, Michael Vilkin, just days before he was scheduled to move out of the home he rented on Lone Jack.

    On the day of the shooting, Vilkin appeared to be trimming trees on property that runs from the end of Upton’s driveway to an empty lot on the other side of Upton’s rental home, a neighbor told NBC 7.

    Vilkin has claimed the shooting was done in self-defense, that he had been bullied by Upton over clearing brush.

    His son, James Upton, lived in the room attached to the garage, and testified he heard the gunshots the morning his father was shot outside the family's rental home.

    After he saw his father’s injuries, James said he walked toward Vilkin screaming and crying, asking the neighbor “Why?”

    The defense argues Vilkin feared for his life when Upton approached him and two workers doing landscaping.

    Defense attorney Richard Berkon told jurors his client had been bullied, harassed and cursed at by Upton in the past.

    However, James Upton testified his dad never got upset but rather frustrated, saying the landscaping took away their privacy.

    Evelyn Zeller, John Upton's girlfriend, testified she was the one, not Upton, who first objected to the yard work, saying the removal of natural vegetation "didn't make much sense."

    The couple was closing escrow on a new home and knew they would be leaving soon.

    “It just didn’t matter. It made no difference,” Zeller said of the ongoing dispute.

    At one point Monday, jurors were shown an image of a gun owned by Upton.

    Prosecutors have said Upton was unarmed at the time of the shooting.

    James Upton testified he saw a blackberry near his father after he was shot. He said his father owned a Glock but that he kept in his bedside table in his room.

    “I don’t like guns. My dad didn’t like guns either,” he testified, adding that his father owned the firearm for self-protection.

    Vilkin has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and assault with deadly weapon. If convicted, he could face 35 years to life in prison.

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