The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division now considers the death of Stephen Smith — the 19-year-old found dead on a South Carolina road in 2015 — a homicide and not vehicular manslaughter, according to attorneys representing Smith’s mother.
Eric Bland, co-founder of the Bland Richter law firm, said in a release that SLED Chief Mark Keel gave him the news in a phone call.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” said Bland.
SLED announced that it had reopened the investigation into Smith’s death shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021, saying that information uncovered during their investigation into those murders had prompted them to look again at Smith’s case, as CrimeOnline has reported.
Alex Murdaugh — disgraced lawyer, Maggie’s husband, and Paul’s father — was just convicted of the murders and sentenced to two life sentences.
Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, has long contended that her son was not the victim of a hit and run and that she believes his murder was related to his being openly gay. She opened a GoFundMe earlier this month to raise money for an independent autopsy that would provide “an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts.” That fundraiser has so far garnered more than $80,000.
Bland and his partner, Ronnie Richter, said in a statement that SLED officials told them “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,” the statement said.
According to the attorneys, SLED purposefully waited for the end of the Murdaugh murder trial “out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence.”
“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.”
While SLED has not said what specific evidence they found that prompted them to reopen the case, long-swirling rumors have connected Smith’s death to the Murdaughs. Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, issued a statement last week denying the “vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death.” Smith and Buster Murdaugh were high school classmates.
SLED has asked anyone with information about the case to contact their tip line at 1-800-CALL-SLED.
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[Featured image: Stephen Smith/Facebook]