The shooting death of a North County man hangs on the question: was it murder or self-defense?
John Upton, 56, was shot in March 2013 by his neighbor, Michael Vilkin.
Upton was a filmmaker and known for rescuing Romanian orphans in the 1990s.
Neighbors say Upton and his 62-year-old neighbor had been in an ongoing dispute about cutting tres and bushes between their two properties.
Vilkin owned an empty lot next to Upton’s rental home on Lone Jack in the Olivenhain neighborhood of Encinitas.
On Thursday, there were opening statements in the murder trial. Soon after, two men took the witness stand.
They were workers hired to help clear brush on Vilkin’s property.
Both men testified they heard the gunshots.
Through a translator, one man said he didn’t see the shooting. Another said he saw the shooting and saw Upton fall backwards.
“As John Upton approached the defendant calmly, cooly, the defendant shot him,” said prosecutor David Uyer.
The defense argued that Vilkin feared for his life during the encounter that morning. That he had been bullied, harassed and cursed at by Upton in the past because he didn’t like it when Vilkin cut the trees because it blocked his view.
Defense attorney Richard Berkon pointed to his client and said, “Every time this man tried to clear brush, prune a tree, take out a tree, John Upton got mad and it escalated. It turned from voicing a displeasure to cursing, to intimidation.”
Prosecutors say Upton had only a mobile phone on his body when officers arrived on scene.
If convicted, Vilkin could face 35 years to life in prison.