Did Michael Vilkin kill his next-door neighbor in a foolish feud over some shrubbery?
Vilkin reportedly had a long-running beef with his neighbor.
He owned a vacant lot in Encinitas, California. To the left of the lot was the home of his neighbor, Emmy® award winning documentary film-maker John Upton.
The feud erupted into violence after Vilkin trimmed some trees. Prosecutors said Upton came out of his house and approached Vilkin, who then shot him from ten feet away.
Prosecutor David Vyar said, "The victim was shot twice, once in the abdomen and once in the head."
The dead man's brother, Michael Upton, showed INSIDE EDITION the bushes Vilkin had been chopping down shortly before the deadly confrontation.
John Upton was hailed an American hero for rescuing scores of children from the infamous Romanian orphanages.
His crusade was featured in a 20/20 report in 1993. Upton's campaign inspired tycoon Richard Branson and actress Jessica Lange to get involved in helping Romanian orphans.
He can't believe his big-hearted brother who helped so many orphans is gone in such a violent way.
"Johnny was a fearless crusader for kids, and he's gonna be missed," said Michael.
In a jailhouse interview, Vilkin, who was born in the Soviet Union, admitted he killed Upton.
"I shot him," he said.
But he insisted it was self defense, saying, "He came at me threatening, and pulled the gun on me."
The 61-year-old defendant has been charged with murder, and has pled not guilty.
It was quite a fall from grace. Vilkin was an economist and entrepreneur once profiled in a financial magazine.
Despite Vilkin's claim of self-defense, Michael Upton summed up the family's feelings, saying, "He's a coward and a cold-blooded killer."