A 62-year-old Vista man was found guilty of first-degree murder Friday afternoon in the March 2013 shooting death of John Upton, a documentary filmmaker from Encinitas known for his work involving the plight of Romanian orphans.
Michael Vilkin, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, was convicted of murder and assault with a firearm by a Vista Superior Court jury, according to the court clerk. He faces 35 years to life in prison when sentenced Aug. 27.
Vilkin testified he acted in self-defense after he and Upton, 56, got into an argument over the trimming of bushes on adjoining properties in the Olivenhain neighborhood of Encinitas. Vilkin said he thought Upton had a gun and fired in self-defense.
But San Diego County sheriff's deputies found only 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.
Vilkin, an economist, owned a vacant lot next to a rental home occupied by Upton and his girlfriend.
After seeing a segment about Romanian orphans on ABC's "20/20," Upton decided to help publicize the brutal conditions of the orphans and bring as many as possible to the U.S.
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 the U.S. 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.