The body of a teenager found along a South Carolina road, whose death was being re-investigated after renewed public interest in the Alex Murdaugh case, is now considered a homicide, the family attorney said.
The extraordinary revelation about the inquest into Stephen Smith’s death came during a phone call between attorney Eric Bland and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel .
Bland called it a “shocking announcement after eight years of a road vehicle manslaughter proclamation.”
Smith family attorneys and SLED authorities will work together and share information and resources as the state plans to exhume Smith’s body, Bland said in a new statement.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do so,” Bland said. “SLED officials also welcomed a partnership with Bland Richter in this investigation. They believe working together will help bring new leads and information to light and ultimately lead to a resolution in this case.
A spokesperson for SLED told Law&Crime on Tuesday night that the investigation into Smith’s death has always been a homicide investigation and now that the Murdaugh case is over, the agency can focus more resources on that case. .
Questions have been raised about Smith’s death during the investigation into the 2021 murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, Bland said.
Police reopened the case in 2021 after new evidence emerged during the double murder investigation, Bland said.
In March, Smith’s mother, Sandy, started a GoFundMe page to raise money for an independent autopsy.
Police say Smith was initially hit by a car and died on a road near Murdaugh’s estate in 2015. An autopsy found the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a car accident. The manner of death was undetermined.
“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,” Bland said.
Bland said law enforcement would be present when the family plans to exhume and re-examine Smith’s body.
“We are committed to finding out what really happened and to getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves,” Bland and Ronnie Richter said in a joint statement.
SLED also said it was waiting for the Murdaugh trial to end before breaking the news, fearing witnesses would be less present under Murdaugh’s “sphere of influence,” Bland said.
“SLED is publicly supporting us, Sandy Smith, and her efforts to find out what really happened to her son,” Richter said. “They have expressed their condolences to the Smith family and will continue to work diligently to bring those responsible for Stephen’s death to justice. We are proud to be their partner in seeking justice.
Alex Murdaugh received two life sentences for killing his wife and son earlier this month.
On Monday morning, Alex Murdaugh’s attorney, Jim Griffin, posted a statement on Twitter on behalf of Buster Murdaugh, who was a classmate of Stephen Smith and knew each other.
Despite the lack of evidence, Smith’s death inquest file includes some people reporting unsubstantiated rumors they had heard about Buster Murdaugh being somehow involved in Smith’s death. However, Buster Murdaugh was never named a suspect or person of interest in the case. On Monday morning, Buster Murdaugh released a statement saying, “I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.”
Buster Murdaugh added: ‘I have done my best to ignore the vicious rumors of my involvement in the tragic death of Stephen Smith which continue to appear in the media as I mourn the brutal murders of my mother and my son. brother. I love them so much and miss them terribly.
Eric Bland said Monday they were unaware that Buster Murdaugh had any involvement in Smith’s death.
“As we sit here today, Buster is a victim. He lost a mother, a brother, and now his father is in jail. Buster, as we know, had nothing to do with it,” Bland said.
Angenette Levy of Law&Crime contributed to this report
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