Man sentenced for killing filmmaker

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VISTA, Calif. -- An Encinitas man who shot and killed a neighbor with whom he'd been feuding over the cutting of bushes and trees on the defendant's vacant lot was sentenced Wednesday to 64 years to life in prison.

Michael Vilkin, 63, was convicted last June of first-degree murder in the death of 56-year-old John Upton.

Upton was a documentary filmmaker who gained fame for his crusade to rescue Romanian orphans living in deplorable conditions during the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Vilkin, a former economist from the Soviet Union, testified that he shot Upton in self-defense.

Deputy District Attorney David Uyar told jurors that on the day of the shooting -- March 28, 2013 -- Vilkin showed up with two workers to cut bushes and shrubbery on his property adjacent to Upton's rental home.

When Upton walked up an easement and approached Vilkin, the defendant “calmly and coolly'' shot the victim in the abdomen from close range and then fired again, hitting him in the head, according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Richard Berkon told the jury that the shooting was “justified.'' Berkon said Upton had been bullying, intimidating and cursing at Vilkin for months because he didn't like the defendant clearing trees and ruining the view.

Vilkin shot Upton because he thought he saw a gun in the victim's hand as he approached, Berkon said.

A cell phone was located near Upton's body.

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