Man involved in landscape dispute shooting sentenced

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – What began as a dispute over trimming some trees would lead to the ruin of two lives: John Upton, a 56-year-old documentary filmmaker and then man who killed him.

In a Vista courtroom, Michael Vilkin convicted of first degree murder last June, learned he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

He was sentenced to 64 years to life.

The killing occurred two years ago on March 28.

Vilkin, then 61-years-old, came out that day with two workers to clear out brush and shrubs from his vacant lot next to Upton’s rental home.

The neighbors had argued on other occasions about Vilkin’s clearing of the trees.

On the day he was murdered, Upton walked up to his neighbor and was shot at close range, first in the stomach and then in the head.

His defense attorney claimed that Vilkin thought his neighbor had a gun in his hand.

There was no gun.

A cell phone was later found next to Upton’s body.

Upton was a documentary filmmaker, acclaimed for his efforts to rescue Romanian orphans who were forced to live in squalor and neglect during the regime of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu.

In the courtroom, the judge listened as relatives of the filmmaker had their say.

But the man convicted of murder would also have a voice.

In a rambling, disjointed speech to the court, Michael Vilkin claimed that he was the victim and blamed the man he killed for what happened that day.

Upton’s daughter said he father’s killing and the man who pulled the trigger make no sense.

Before handing down the sentence, the judge threw out a defense motion for a new trial based on the argument that his trial attorney did not give Vilkin enough preparation to testify.

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