Attorneys: Stephen Smith’s death ruled homicide

Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter on Tuesday announced Stephen Smith’s death is now considered a homicide by SLED agents. (WCSC)
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 9:50 AM EDT
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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC/Gray News) - Attorneys representing the family of Stephen Smith said the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has ruled the death as a homicide, WCSC reports.

Smith was 19 years old when he was found dead on the side of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, South Carolina, in 2015.

“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” attorney Eric Bland said in a news release Tuesday night.

The family launched an online fundraiser March 9 for Smith’s body to be independently exhumed and examined. As of Tuesday night, that fundraiser, which set a goal of $15,000, had raised more than $80,000.

The money raised will be used to exhume the body, conduct the autopsy and hire experts who can investigate any findings. The attorneys estimated an exhumation could cost between $10,000 and $25,000, and some expert trial witnesses can cost up to $600 or $700 per hour. They vowed there would be “full transparency” on how the money will be spent.

Attorney Ronnie Richter said that it would be “a significant setback” if the courts denied a motion to exhume the body.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division re-opened the case in June 2021, shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh based on information discovered during that initial investigation.

In the year and a half since, no new details have come to light, but SLED reports it has “made progress” and the case remains “active and ongoing.”

No suspects have ever been officially named in the teen’s death but the Murdaugh family name comes up several times in investigative files.

Buster Murdaugh, the surviving son of Alex Murdaugh, released a statement Monday morning in response to ongoing rumors that he was involved in Smith’s death.

“I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family,” he said in the statement.

Documents show investigators fielding tips about the Murdaugh family in the days and months following Smith’s death.

You can read the full statement from the Bland Richter law firm here.

SLED has not yet responded to a request for comment.