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Man pleads not guilty in death of acquaintance found in Scripps Ranch pool

A man accused of killing another man whose body was found in a nearly empty swimming pool at the victim’s Scripps Ranch home pleaded not guilty Monday to a murder charge.

Jeffrey Smith, 60, is accused in the death of William Deignan, 87. Authorities have not said how Deignan was killed.

Few details were released during Smith’s arraignment in San Diego Superior Court on Monday, although Deputy District Attorney Jaimie Thomas noted that Deignan had obtained a protective order against the defendant earlier this year.

According to court records, a San Diego Superior Court judge granted Deignan an elder abuse restraining order against Smith on July 7.

San Diego police homicide Lt. Steve Shebloski told the Union-Tribune that Smith had been staying in a room at Deignan’s home, and that in exchange Smith did “odd jobs” around the house.

Deignan petitioned the court for a restraining order against Smith in June. In his request, he accused Smith of subjecting him to verbal abuse, intimidation, harassment, threats and property theft, although the petition did not include specific examples. Deignan said in the court documents that he feared for his safety and emotional and mental wellbeing. The documents refer to Deignan as an acquaintance of Smith’s.

In addition to the restraining order, Deignan was granted an order to remove Smith from his home.

In court Monday, defense attorney Stephen Cline, who represented Smith, said he had not reviewed police reports and did not comment on the allegations against his client. Cline and Smith appeared in court virtually.

About 2:30 p.m. Aug. 2, a family member — an adult child of Deignan’s — found the victim’s body in the bottom of the pool at Deignan’s home on Birch Glen Court, a cul-de-sac off Pepperbrook Lane near Timberlake Drive.

The family member reported that Deignan had drowned, but officers noticed suspicious circumstances. Shebloski said Deignan had suffered trauma to his upper body that was “highly suspicious” and inconsistent with the “manner in which his body was found.”

The lieutenant declined to elaborate on the injuries.

He said detectives suspected Deignan was killed at his home based on evidence, witness interviews and surveillance video. Detectives also learned about the restraining order.

On Aug. 8, six days after Deignan’s death, neighbors called police to have officers check on the house. They had seen someone in the home and knew the house was supposed to be vacant following Deignan’s death, Shebloski said.

When officers arrived, they found Smith. He was arrested on suspicion of violating the restraining order and booked into jail. Three days later, as the investigation continued, Smith was arrested on suspicion of murder in Deignan’s death, Shebloski said.

In addition to the murder charge, Smith pleaded not guilty to two counts of violating a court order.

Smith remains held in jail without bail.

Staff reporter Alex Riggins contributed to this report.

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