A jury has found a San Diego County man guilty of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the death of his neighbor over a tree-trimming feud last year.
Defendant Michael Vilkin of Encinitas showed little emotion as the verdict was read in a Vista court Friday afternoon, capping his trial for the shooting death of his neighbor, filmmaker John Upton.
Vilkin is set to be sentenced Aug. 27 and could face 50 years to life in prison.
"It's not a happy day. It's just that the truth came out," said Upton's good friend Elizabeth Bailey.
The verdict followed nearly a week of deliberations that saw one juror replaced with an alternate due to misconduct.
The trial had wrapped Monday, and jurors began deliberating Tuesday morning. On Thursday, the court said a juror had been dismissed for misconduct, following a hearing with both sides present, and was replaced by an alternate juror. The jury resumed deliberations Thursday afternoon.
Vilkin fatally shot Upton in March 2013 after a year-long dispute that began over tree-trimming.
Last week, Vilkin testified that Upton’s body language had become threatening over time and said he even saw Upton with a gun once. Vilkin testified that he feared his neighbor would hurt him.
On the day of the confrontation that led to Upton’s shooting, Vilkin said he “prepared for the worst.”
That day, as Vilkin was working on some property he owns next door to Vilkin’s Encinitas home, Vilkin testified that Upton approached him angrily and holding what looked like a gun.
Vilkin was armed and shot Upton on the stomach and head. Prosecutors said Upton was not armed at all, but was instead carrying a phone in his hand.
Last Friday, Vilkin took the stand once more and said he wasn’t happy about killing Upton and called the shooting an “automatic action to protect my person.”
Bailey told NBC 7 the trial was emotionally draining for everyone sitting in the courtroom, but with this guilty verdict, justice has been served.
"He was just my dearest soul friend," said Bailey, tearing up as she remembered Upton. "He was very supportive and fun and a good friend. I would call him a fierce Leo, lion protector because he truly was a protector."