The death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old found dead on a rural South Carolina road in 2015, is now being investigated as a homicide, authorities said Tuesday night.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division made the decision in the wake of the Alex Murdaugh trial, in which the former lawyer was convicted of killing his wife and son at the family’s hunting property. The department first said in 2021 that it would open an investigation into Smith’s death due to new information it gathered as part of its investigation of the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.
Smith’s body was found on July 8, 2015, and an autopsy showed blunt force trauma to his head and injuries to his arm and hand. His body was about 15 miles from the Murdaugh home.
First responders at the scene questioned if his head injuries could have been due to a gunshot wound, but a coroner later ruled his death the result of a hit-and-run. He was found about three miles from his car, which was abandoned with its gas tank open, authorities said at the time.
No one has been arrested or charged in Smith’s death. Officials have not announced any link between the Murdaugh family or Smith’s death.
Smith’s mother said last week she intended to have his body exhumed to gather further evidence about his death.
“I just knew in my heart that what they were telling me was not true,” Sandy Smith told NewsNation on Tuesday night.
Lawyers for the family said authorities’ decision Tuesday showed officials already have enough information to raise concerns about his cause of death.
“SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide,” the attorneys, Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, said in a 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”
Fox Carolina reported Tuesday that SLED wanted to wait until after Alex Murdaugh’s trial to make the announcement about the new investigation.