SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - An Encinitas woman whose boyfriend was shot and killed by a neighbor is talking to News 8. Evelyn Zeller says her partner of two years was not afraid of death, but never imagined it would come so close to home.
"John was one of the most even-keeled people that I have ever met. He was always happy and content," Zeller said.
Evelyn has fond memories of her boyfriend, 56-year-old John Upton, who she lived with for the past two years on Lone Jack Road in Encinitas.
"He was about making the world a better place, and what really helps me through all of this is that John looked at death as a beginning, not an end, and he was not afraid of it," she said.
Last week, the filmmaker known for rescuing Romanian orphans was shot and killed by his neighbor, 61-year-old Michael Vilkin in what prosecutors are calling an unprovoked attack.
"It was my birthday. It was a very happy day. There was nothing bad or angry in John's heart about this," Evelyn said.
Investigators say the two neighbors had past disputes over Vilkin trimming trees on his vacant lot. But Zeller says they were preparing to move out. She believes Upton went outside to patch things up with Vilkin, who pulled a gun and shot him twice.
"It was a completely cold-blooded revenge for his bruised ego. I'm not sure what his story is," Evelyn said.
Vilkin has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder, and told News 8 in a jailhouse interview the shooting was in self-defense. He claimed Upton also had a gun, but police only found a cell phone in the victim's hand.
"John had no gun, he had no knife, he had nothing. He was a completely unarmed man who went out there to move my car," Evelyn said.
She says the past few days have been a nightmare, as she packs up the home full of memories of her loved one.
"My lesson out of this horrendous experience is don't keep hatred in your heart because it will destroy your spirit," she said.
Evelyn says she heard the gunshots and rushed outside to help her boyfriend. That's when she says Vilkin pointed the gun at her.