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Second Autopsy On Teen's Body Found Near Murdaugh Home A ‘Success,’ With Cause of Death Determined

"I do know it was a success, they say they did collect evidence,” private investigator and forensic expert Dr. Kenneth Kinsey said.

By Dorian Geiger
Alex Murdaugh Gets Life Sentence In Wife, Son’s Killings

A team of pathologists who carried out a new autopsy of Stephen Smith, the South Carolina teen whose body was found on a road near convicted legal scion Alex Murdaugh’s estate in 2015, have concluded a cause and manner of death in the mysterious case, according to reports. 

Last weekend, Smith’s body was exhumed from Gooding Cemetery in South Carolina, Dr. Michelle DuPre, a forensic pathologist, told Law&Crime. A second autopsy was later conducted at a private laboratory in Tampa, Florida. Forensic pathologist Dan Schultz and anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney, who were hired by Smith’s family, oversaw the latest autopsy.

RELATED: Stephen Smith’s Body Exhumed, Family Offers $35,000 Reward For Answers In Teen’s 2015 Death

"Once the autopsy report comes back from the second autopsy, we will forward it to SLED [the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] and cooperate with them as the investigation proceeds," Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, lawyers for the Smith family, told Oxygen.com. "Whether the autopsy has shielded new information will have to be seen. Nonetheless, a full and complete autopsy was able to have been done even though Stephen had been buried for eight years. It was as complete as if Stephen had died yesterday. We are encouraged by the commitment that SLED is making to finding out answers in connection with Stephen‘s untimely death."  

Stephen Smith Pd

In 2015, Smith’s body was found along a country road in Hampton County, South Carolina, just 15 miles from the Murdaugh estate. Half of his skull had been crushed, according to Fox News.

The initial case autopsy concluded the South Carolina nursing student and LGBTQ activist had been fatally struck by a vehicle in a suspected hit-and-run. A driver, however, was never arrested. Investigators also cast doubt on pathologist Erin Presnell’s original autopsy report, citing inconsistencies in her determination with evidence found at the scene. Specifically, authorities asserted there had been no skid marks or other debris that might have been left behind from a deadly collision. They also zeroed in on the fact that Smith didn’t have abrasions on his body.

In March, nearly eight years after Smith’s death, investigators announced they suspected the South Carolina teen had been a victim of a homicide. This week, lawyers for Smith’s family also issued a $35,000 reward in exchange “for information leading to the arrest of any responsible party in the death of Stephen Smith.”

"We are proud of what we accomplished in such a short period of time which includes having the state declare that Stephen‘s death was a homicide, getting Stephen‘s body exhumed, and having the second autopsy done, and Stephen be returned to rest in peace," Bland and Richter added. "We are not law-enforcement officers and do not have the same tools that law enforcement does. We will continue to provide tips and other information as we receive them on this most important matter and transfer them over to SLED."

According to DuPre, pathologists have determined a new cause and manner of death for Smith, however, preliminary autopsy information won’t yet be released until the final reports are finished. 

Smith’s case caught renewed attention amid Alex Murdaugh’s 2021 arrest for the double murder of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and son, Paul Murdaugh, 22. In March, the disgraced attorney was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His legal team say they intend to appeal the ruling.

Alex Murdaugh is escorted out of the Colleton County Courthouse

Unfounded speculation has since swirled around Buster Murdaugh, Alex’s surviving son, and Smith’s former peer, that he’s somehow involved in Smith’s death. The Netflix documentary, “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal,” speculated that Smith, who was openly gay, had an affair with Buster, who has disavowed the accusations as “false” and “baseless.”

Patrick Wilson, 25, and Shawn Connelly, 25, have since been identified as persons of interest in Smith’s death, according to a report published by Fitsnews. The pair, who both lived near where Smith’s body was found, were initially accused in the 19-year-old’s death in 2015.

On Tuesday, a private investigator and forensic expert hired on behalf of Smith’s family also hailed the teenager’s second autopsy a “success.”

"I do know it was a success, they say they did collect evidence, it was very good documentation, and everybody was upbeat about the information that was collected," Dr. Kenneth Kinsey told NewsNation during a televised interview on Tuesday. "And that's not always the situation when you exhume someone after so many years."

Kinsey explained that despite Smith’s remains undergoing nearly eight years of decomposition, pathologists remained “very upbeat” about the evidence yielded from the autopsy. 

"I'm very, very excited about the report coming and the pathologists were very upbeat and said they had everything they needed to do a proper examination of Mr. Smith,” Kinsey added. “So I didn’t hear anything negative about that. They were, you know, saying that it was a very good situation for the Smith family and for the investigation so I’ve got my fingers crossed and I’m looking forward to, hopefully we can get the Smith family some answers.” 

"We understand that providing information about a crime can be difficult, and we want to support the community however we can to bring closure for the Smith family," Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter previously said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “We hope that this reward will encourage anyone with information to come forward and provide the critical details needed to solve this case.”

Smith’s remains were since laid to rest for a second time, his family confirmed on social media on Sunday.

"My baby is back in his final resting place,” his mother, Sandy Smith wrote on Facebook. “Thank you again to all of you who helped make this possible.”

The post accompanied a photo of Sandy Smith smiling and kneeling over her son’s gravesite, which had been decorated with sea shells, bouquets of flowers and ornamental cats and butterflies.

Earlier this month, the family’s lawyers had touched on how the exhumation had reopened old wounds for the Smith family.

“This time is a very solemn time, as you can imagine, for Sandy,” attorney Eric Bland said. “It’s so bittersweet. Stephen, for many many years, I can only imagine, was not so much at peace in his grave. He probably was pounding on his coffin, saying, to anybody that could hear: ‘I was not hit by a car. But I was intentionally killed.’ And now we’ve told him we hear his voice. And it’s our intention to return Stephen to his grave when the autopsy is concluded. And, at that time, the investigation will unfold.” 

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division declined to comment further on the case when contacted by Oxygen.com on Thursday.

Anyone with additional information related to Stephen Smith's death is urged to contact the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division by calling 803-737-9000. Tips can also be sent via email at tips@sled.sc.gov.

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