Lawyers probing the mysterious death of Murdaugh-linked Stephen Smith say the crime scene showed no signs he was hit by a car and the investigation into his passing was improperly handled.
Smith’s body will be exhumed seven years after it was found in the middle of the road in South Carolina and lawyers working for his mother, Sandy Smith, hope a new autopsy and investigation will show how he really died.
Sandy has long disputed the coroner’s determination of a hit-and-run – which clashed with initial reports from officers on the scene – saying she believes her son was murdered.
Promising to untangle the web, lawyer Ronnie Richter said: “There were no skid marks around his body. There was no vehicular debris found. His loosely tied shoes were still on his feet … It is our job today to launch a new investigation into this deathin the hopes of finding real answers.”
Sandy quickly raised over $68,000 to fund an independent exhumation and autopsy for her son after the March 3 conviction of disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh for murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul in cold blood as part of his scheme to hide his financial problems and drug addiction.
Sources have previously claimed the prominent family had used their influence to get various family out of legal trouble. On Monday surviving family member Buster Murdaugh gave a statement blasting longstanding local rumors the family had somehow been involved in his classmate’s death.
“What we’re going to do is start over,” Richter’s legal partner Eric Bland told reporters. “We’re going to hire experts who are going to come into this case with a fresh set of eyes, with an open mind, without any preconceived conclusions. Being objective, and wherever the facts go, that’s where the investigation will go.”
Experts examining the circumstances of Stephen’s death have previously pointed out hit-and-run victims are rarely found in the middle of the road and if he had been hit by a car, his loosely fitting shoes would have come off.
However, the coroner recorded a verdict of death by blunt force trauma and the matter was investigated by the South Carolina Highway Patrol as a traffic accident rather than the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division [SLED] as a homicide.
Stephen’s lawyers said they “maintain the SLED should have been and is the proper investigative agency for Stephens death.
“There were competing agencies that were investigating this, whether it was Highway Patrol at one time or SLED, or some different local law enforcement agency.
“The person who investigates this [now] can look at everything and then give us direction,” they added.
SLED re-opened the investigation into Stephen’s death in June 2021, saying they had come across new information while investigating the shootings of Maggie and Paul, although they have yet to disclose what that information is.
According to local outlet Fitsnews, although the Murdaugh name was mentioned to officers many times in the early days of investigating Stephen’s death, it was never included in any police reports and no-one from the family was ever interviewed about it.
Buster has never been linked by any evidence to the death of his classmate, and said on Monday he had tried “to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s traffic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother.
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny and involvement in his death and my heart goes out to the Smith family.”
Asked about Murdaugh’s statement during the press conference, Richter said their investigation “is not about Buster Murdaugh.”
“It’s about trying to get answers to questions that his mother desperately needs answers for,” he said. “So, there’s no reason to discuss Buster Murdaugh, and there’s no comment to make back.”
The official police narrative of Stephen’s death was that his car had run out of gas and he had been walking on the road. The car was discovered over three miles away from where his body was found with his wallet inside and the gas-cap open.
A coroner determined the teen likely suffered his head injury when he was struck by a semitruck’s mirror as the vehicle passed, The Associated Press reported.
Smith had a large head wound on the right side of his forehead, cuts on his left hand and a dislocated shoulder, police reports have said.
The attorneys said they planned to look not only at Smith’s death, but his life in the weeks beforehand. They planned to examine the 90 days prior to Smith’s July 8, 2015, death to learn more about whom he was in contact with, what his plans were, among other circumstances.
“Stephen had to live a secret life,” Bland said. “There’s no question about it — being young and gay in the low country was not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy today, certainly wasn’t easy in 2015.
“He didn’t hide it. He was he was proud of being gay. However, he had to be cautious. And people that have to be cautious have to be secretive.”
The Murdaugh family have also been haunted by two other deaths – that of their housekeeper in a freak accident, which is also now being questioned by police, and of a female friend of Paul who died when he drunkenly crashed his boat and she was thrown overboard.
Additional reporting by Lee Brown
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