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Trial to Start for Man Accused of Gunning Down Filmmaker in Olivenhain

Michael Vilkin, 62, is charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the March 28, 2013, death of John Upton, who gained fame for his crusade to rescue Romanian orphans.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

Opening statements are scheduled today in the trial of a man accused of gunning down a documentary filmmaker outside the victim's Olivenhain home following a months-long dispute over shrubbery.

Michael Vilkin, 62, is charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the March 28, 2013, 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. He and Vilkin had been in a running dispute, sheriff's Lt. James Bolwerk said.

At Vilkin's arraignment last year, Deputy District Attorney David Uyar said that Vilkin had a crew clearing brush in a vacant 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 Vilkin, the prosecutor said. When Upton got within 10 feet of Vilkin, the defendant fired twice, striking Upton in the abdomen and the head, the prosecutor alleged.

Upton's girlfriend, who heard the gunshots from inside Upton's home, ran toward Upton 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 Upton made no aggressive moves toward the defendant.

Vilkin, who owns a vacant lot next to Upton's property, said he fired the shots in self-defense after Upton pulled a gun, but authorities found no weapon near the victim's body.

—City News Service

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