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Teen's Death Near Alex Murdaugh's Home Investigated As Homicide, 8 Years After Body Found
Eight years after the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found on a road in Hampton County, South Carolina, just 15 miles from the Murdaugh family home, authorities are investigating the death as a homicide.
Eight years after the body of 19-year-old Stephen Smith was found on a road in Hampton County, South Carolina, just 15 miles from the Murdaugh family home, his death is being investigating as a homicide, authorities confirmed to Oxygen.com Wednesday.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in a statement that its investigation into Smith's death "was never closed," and that "it remains a homicide investigation. Progress has been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing."
RELATED: Son Of Alex Murdaugh’s Dead Housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, Renews Calls For Body Exhumation
A medical examiner had concluded from a July 8, 2015 autopsy that Smith died from being struck by a motor vehicle, which prompted the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office to ask the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) to investigate the death, SLED said. At that time, the sheriff's office and the SCHP did not request SLED to investigate the death.
On June 23, 2021 — about two weeks after Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were found shot to death near the dog kennels on the family’s hunting estate South Carolina — SLED opened an investigation into Smith's death after the division's agents received new info about his death and reviewed the SCHP investigative file.
"From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle," SLED said in its Wednesday statement.
The law firm representing Smith's mother, Sandy Smith, put out a statement Tuesday indicating that a change had come about since the initial classification of the death as a "highway vehicular manslaughter." The lawyers said they learned this after a phone call between Bland Richter Law Firm co-founder Eric Bland and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel, who have been working together and sharing info and resources, according to the firm.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” Bland said in a statement.
The law firm added in its Tuesday release that "questions were raised about Smith's death during the investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh in 2021. State police reopened Smith’s case in June 2021 after discovering new evidence during the double murder investigation."
Disbarred South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh was convicted of murder by a jury on March 2 of this year in the fatal shootings of his wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul on June 7 of 2021. He was sentenced the next day to life in prison without parole.
Earlier this week, Buster, 26, dismissed any speculation that he had anything to due with Smith's death eight years ago.
"These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false," he said in a statement Monday. "I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family."
Some media outlets have reported that Smith and Buster attended the same South Carolina high school, but those reports have not been verified by Oxygen.com.
"I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother," Buster said Monday. " ... I love them so much and miss them terribly."
Smith family lawyers have said that Buster has not been singled out in the family's wishes to exhume Smith’s body.
"We've not mentioned Buster's name one time,” Bland's colleague, Ronnie Richter, said during a news conference Monday, according to NBC News. “This is not about Buster Murdaugh, so, this is about Stephen Smith. There's no reason to discuss Buster Murdaugh and there's no comment to make back to Buster Murdaugh."
Smith’s family has been raising money through a crowdfunding effort to exhume his body to have an independent autopsy and medical exam done.
"State police first said that Stephen Smith had car trouble, was walking for help, and got hit by a car," the Bland Richter Law Firm said in its Tuesday release. "Smith’s family believes he was murdered, and wants an unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts."
Nearly $90,000 had been raised on the Smith family's GoFundMe page as of Wednesday afternoon.
“SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide," law firm partners Bland and Richter said in a joint statement. "However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence. We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves."
As the investigation into Smith's death continues, SLED officials urge anyone with info in the case to call SLED at (803) 737-9000 and ask for Investigative Services. Tips can also be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Since the beginning of SLED’s investigation, the goal has been to find out how Mr. Smith died and find the person(s) responsible for his death," the division added. "To that end, SLED Chief Mark Keel has assigned additional SLED Low Country Regional Agents to work this case in the hopes that those who may know what happened to Mr. Smith are more willing to speak freely now than they may have been in 2015 or 2021."