Lost in homicidal ideation

Defendant says he was "just a sitting duck, waiting to be shot"

Michael Vilkin claimed that he put his gun in his waistband when he saw John Upton approach.
  • Michael Vilkin claimed that he put his gun in his waistband when he saw John Upton approach.

Michael Vilkin, 63, was sentenced to 64 years to life in prison yesterday, March 18, nine months after he was declared guilty of murder for shooting his neighbor, John Upton, after repeated confrontations over trimming the shrubbery on Vilkin’s Encinitas property.

John Upton

John Upton

Before judge Robert Kearney pronounced sentence, the convicted murderer rose from his seat to address the court. His left hand was cuffed to the shackles around his waist, and Vilkin held in his right hand a prepared statement.

Vilkin suggested that his court case will be a study for law students on how to lose a trial before it even starts. Vilkin said that when he learned 300 pages of police reports would not be admissible during his trial as evidence, “I knew I was just a sitting duck, waiting to be shot, point blank.”

And Vilkin commented on the media interest in his case, which he said caused people to wonder, what happened to “love your neighbor” and “the golden rule”? “I was a good neighbor,” declared Vilkin.

Front door of John Upton's rented home

Front door of John Upton's rented home

Family and supporters of the deceased were present in the courtroom for the sentencing, they took up half the seats, and they looked incredulous when Vilkin began repeating statements that he had made from the witness box during his trial; for example, that he had allowed neighbors to park on his property and walk their dogs on his land.

After ten minutes, Judge Kearney interrupted Vilkin and instructed him not to repeat his trial testimony but to instead inform the court how this incident has affected him and his family. “Obviously it affected my wife!” Vilkin said with a rare show of emotion.“She is not as strong as I am.” He told the judge: “I can live in a prison.”

Vilkin spoke for three more minutes, declaring, “It affected me because I am a nice person” and “I treated all my neighbors the best I could” before the judge interrupted him a final time.

Prosecutor David Uyar read statements from members of the Upton family. Michael Upton, the brother of the deceased, stated: “This is an act of evil in its purest form.” The girlfriend of the deceased, Evelyn Zeller, told the court that she had not yet seen “even a glimpse of remorse” from Vilkin and “He should remain incarcerated for the rest of his life.”

Suzanne Hyle, who is a former wife of John Upton and the mother of his three grown children, spoke to the court for five minutes. She said she attended many days of the trial and “The jury saw the truth, thank God.” She noticed that Vilkin’s wife Tamara, who was in the courtroom, will “never be with her husband again” and concluded “today is a very sad day, nobody wins.”

Defense attorney Matthew Wechter pleaded for a new trial, telling the judge that Vilkin was not adequately prepared to testify and that his “Russian military exterior” may have made him appear cold or remorseless to the jury. Judge Kearney denied that motion.

Wechter then pleaded for the court to use its discretion to reduce the conviction to voluntary manslaughter. Defense pointed out that Vilkin “sought out law enforcement help” many times, and because Vilkin felt threatened and intimidated his case qualifies as “imperfect self defense.” Judge Kearney declined to reduce the charge.

The last words from the judge were, “Mr. Vilkin you did something that cannot be undone…. Good luck to you.”

Vilkin has 721 days of custody credit.

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After the sentencing hearing, prosecutor David Uyar said he spoke with Upton family and supporters who were present, and they felt some satisfaction that Vilkin got the maximum possible sentence.

John Upton's daughter, Elizabeth Upton Vaca, spoke for ten minutes in a moving tribute to her father. She told the judge that her father collected heart shaped rocks when he walked on the beach, and that he phoned or texted her every day. She said they spoke on the phone that morning, just hours before he was shot. She said her dad told her that the moving trucks were coming next week, and that he planned to start by moving the potted plants to his new home. She concluded by saying that she knew her dad “is in a great place.”

Vell I amk glad I don'tk hafe a neighbor like Vilkin. Vat vas hek doink here anyvay?

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