The body of a 19-year-old South Carolina nursing student who was found dead on the side of the road a few miles away from the now-disgraced Murdaugh family’s hunting estate will be exhumed to undergo an independent autopsy.
The teen’s mysterious 2015 death has been the subject of renewed interest since Alex Murdaugh was convicted earlier this month on two counts of murder for fatally shooting his wife and son on the property in June 2021.
The mother of Stephen N. Smith on Thursday announced that she would not waste any time in seeking the exhumation and autopsy of her son’s body after she raised more than $53,000 on a GoFundMe page.
“I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did. Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under a rug,” she wrote. “We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way.”
The body of Smith, a classmate of Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son Buster Murdaugh, was discovered in the middle of Sandy Run Road in a rural area of Hampton County on July 8, 2015. It’s about 65 miles north of Savannah, Georgia.
Investigators with South Carolina Highway Patrol initially concluded that the teen died of blunt force trauma to the head from a hit-and-run crash, despite finding no evidence to corroborate that theory, according to a report from Charleston NBC affiliate WCBD-TV.
“I saw no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle,” investigators wrote in notes obtained by the station. “After consulting with MAIT (Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team), we see no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle.”
Smith’s death went unsolved for years, but the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced in June 2021 that they were reopening the case less than a month after agents began investigating the fatal shooting of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
“SLED has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh,” SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby said in a June 23, 2021, statement to Bluffton Today.
Authorities have not disclosed the nature of the new evidence, nor have they confirmed whether there is any indication that Smith’s death is connected to the Murdaugh family.
Despite the case of her son’s death being reopened by investigators, Smith’s mother has publicly stated that she would prefer to take matters into her own hands.
“We feel it’s critical to seek a new goal – an independent exhumation and autopsy – and we’re launching Justice for Stephen N. Smith with that immediate goal in mind. While the state can elect and fund an exhumation and new autopsy, it is our understanding that it would be carried out at MUSC, where his death was initially classified as hit-and-run despite no evidence to support it,” she wrote on the fundraising page. “We need a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts. There was no debris in the road, and his injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run.”
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