A North County man accused of shooting and killing his neighbor took the stand in his own defense Thursday, describing how he was always armed while working on his property because he feared a deadly confrontation.
John Upton was shot and killed in March 2013 outside his home on Lone Jack Road. His neighbor Michael Vilkin was arrested and charged with murder.
Vilkin, who has said he shot Upton in self-defense, said the problems between him and the man living in the rental property near his home began with the trimming of a tree a year before the shooting.
Upton came out of his home and told him not to cut the trees near his home, Vilkin testified.
“He was a big man. He had a deep voice and when he was talking to me angrily it was like ‘Argh,’” he explained letting out a growl.
He said Upton’s body language was threatening. From that point on the two men were no longer cordial, Vilkin said.
Vilkin described a night in October 2012 when he was shoveling dirt on his property to smooth out the road in preparation for the work to be done on the driveway.
He said Upton pointed at him and told him to stop the work and get a permit.
After Upton turned around, Vilking testified, “even though it was dark I saw a short, black pistol” in Upton’s left hand.
Vilkin said he didn’t call law enforcement because he said Upton had a right to carry a gun on his property.
When he said the situation was growing worse, he researched purchasing a gun.
“I decided to buy a weapon that could stop a big guy like John Upton,” Vilkin testified.
“I was afraid that one day it would be a deadly confrontation.”
On the day of the shooting, Vilkin and two workers were outside Upton’s home when Upton came out and spoke to the workers, asking them if they wanted him to move his SUV.
Upton told the workers to give him a few minutes.
Vilkin said Upton was looking at tools on the ground that included a shovel and other landscaping tools.
Then, Vilkin testified Upton was walking toward him and appeared enraged.
“At that point, I cocked my revolver,” Vilkin said. “Around that time, he told me “Get the f—k out of here.”
“It was threatening. The voice was threatening,” he said.
“When he was about 10 feet away, I saw a pistol in his right hand,” Vilkin testified. “It was like one second and I pulled out my revolver and shot him.”
He said he shot him in the stomach. After Upton made a few more steps toward him, Vilkin said he thought Upton may be wearing a bulletproof vest.
So he said he yelled "Stop" and raised his gun and shot Upton in the head.
Prosecutors say Upton was not carrying a gun at the time of the shooting but instead had a phone in his hand.
Under cross-examination, prosecutor argued that Upton was turning away from Vilkin before he fired the second shot. When Vilkin said he didn't see Upton turn away, the prosecutor played an interview with police in which Vilkin told detectives that Upton turned as if to avoid the second shot.
When asked why he didn't give Upton a chance, Vilkin said, "Chance? I did not have a chance. I mean an option except to shoot."
Vilkin also said he did not see a weapon nor did he see anyone pick up a gun from the area near Upton's body when asked under cross-examination.