The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) confirmed Tuesday that they are now treating the 2015 death of South Carolina teen Stephen Smith as a homicide following new information that arose during their investigation of the murders of Margaret and Paul Murdaugh.
Smith was found dead on a Hampton County road in July 2015, his death initially ruled the result of blunt force trauma from a hit-and-run accident. However, subsequent reporting and documentaries into now-former South Carolina lawyer and legal dynasty scion Alex Murdaugh reexamined what was long-rumored about Smith’s death: that Alex’s oldest son Buster Murdaugh was somehow involved.
Following Alex Murdaugh’s conviction on the murders of his wife Margaret and son Paul, and in light of unspecified information uncovered during the probing of the Murdaugh family, Smith’s mother Sandy Smith hoped to have Stephen’s body exhumed for further investigation and to prove his death wasn’t “highway vehicular manslaughter.”
However, “SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide. However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence,” Smith family attorney Eric Bland said in a statement.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” Bland added. “We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves.”
SLED spokesman Ryan Alphin confirmed, “The Stephen Smith case is being investigated as a homicide.”
Sandy Smith told the Hampton County Guardian Tuesday night, “I’ve been waiting on this news for almost 8 years! “I’m in shock, I’m elated, I’m waiting for the next chapter!”
According to the initial case file on Smith’s death obtained by CNN, the Murdaugh name was mentioned “dozens of times” by both witnesses and investigators. “Buster was on our radar… The Murdaughs know that,” then-Trooper Todd Proctor says on one recording. However, no members of the Murdaugh family were ever questioned in Smith’s death.
Furthermore, authorities on the scene of Smith’s death believed he had a defensive wound on his hand that suggested a homicide and not hit-and-run; however, hours later, cause of death was changed to “blunt head trauma sustained in a motor vehicle crash.”
On Monday, Buster Murdaugh released a statement through his lawyer denying any involvement in Smith’s death. “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.
“Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story. This has gone on far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family. I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me.”