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Jury resumes deliberations in shooting death of filmmaker John Upton

Neighbor claims self-defense in fatal shooting of documentary filmmaker
Dispute over bushes led to fatal shooting of documentary filmmaker; jury resumes deliberations

A San Diego County jury is set to resume deliberations Thursday morning in the shooting death of an acclaimed documentary filmmaker by a neighbor.

Michael Vilkin, 62, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is charged with murder in the March 2013 slaying of John Upton, 56, best known for his documentary about Romanian orphans.

Vilkin testified that he acted in self-defense after he and Upton got into an argument over the trimming of bushes in adjoining properties in the Olivenhain neighborhood of Encinitas.

Vilkin said he thought Upton had a gun. But sheriff's deputies only found a cellphone near Upton's body. Vilkin shot Upton twice with a .44-magnum, according to trial testimony.

Vilkin's lawyer told jurors that Upton had "bullied and threatened" his client for weeks. The jury began deliberations Tuesday.

An economist, Vilkin owned a vacant lot next to a rental home occupied by Upton and his girlfriend.

After seeing a segment in 1990 about Romanian orphans on ABC's "20/20," Upton decided to help publicize the orphans' brutal situation and bring as many as possible to America.

Four days later, he was in Bucharest meeting with government officials.

"There just wasn't any doubt in my mind that I could do something, that I could make a difference with these kids," Upton later told The Times. "But I didn't waste much time thinking about it, I just went."

Upton was instrumental in bringing an estimated two dozen of the orphans to America for medical care and adoption.

In recent years, Upton had focused on social problems in the United States, including those of the aged, the abused and the disabled, and on the people working to better their lives.

For news as it happens in the greater San Diego area, follow @LATsandiego.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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