Teen Found Dead Near Murdaugh Home Was Murdered: Lawyer

SLED believes Stephen Smith was intentionally killed, according to attorney Eric Bland
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2023 2:19 AM CDT
Updated Mar 22, 2023 7:53 AM CDT
Body of Gay Teen Found Dead Near Murdaugh Home to Be Exhumed
Alex Murdaugh is led to the Colleton County Courthouse by sheriff's deputies for sentencing in in Walterboro, S.C., Friday, March 3, 2023, after being convicted of two counts of murder in the June 7, 2021, shooting deaths of his wife and son.   (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
UPDATE Mar 22, 2023 7:53 AM CDT

Stephen Smith's body has yet to be exhumed, but authorities already consider his 2015 death as murder. An attorney for Smith's mother said Tuesday that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division believes the 19-year-old's death was a homicide. The South Carolina State Highway Patrol initially said Smith had been killed in a hit-and-run after his car broke down near the Murdaugh family's Islandton property, but there were skeptics, due in part to a hole in Smith's head and no direct evidence of a vehicle's involvement. Authorities may still exhume Smith's body, attorney Eric Bland told the Murdaugh Murders Podcast, per Fox News. Smith's family is seeking an exhumation and private autopsy after raising more than $84,000, per CNN.

Mar 20, 2023 2:19 AM CDT

"It's Stephen's year," says the mother of Stephen Smith, the gay 19-year-old whose body was found 15 miles from the Murdaugh family property where, years later, patriarch Alex Murdaugh murdered his wife and son. Smith's body will be exhumed nearly eight years after he was found with a perplexing injury that led investigators to originally conclude Smith may have been shot before eventually deciding he'd been killed in a hit-and-run after his vehicle ran out of gas and he got out and started walking. His mother never believed that story, and said in 2015 she believed her son was killed because he was openly gay. She's been speaking out again in the wake of Alex Murdaugh's murder conviction, and a GoFundMe campaign raised enough money to pay for the exhumation of her son's body, NBC News reports.

Investigators at one point revealed they'd gotten tips that Murdaugh's surviving son, Buster, who graduated from the same high school as Smith in the same year, 2014, may have been involved in Smith's death. The Guardian reports that there were rumors that the two classmates may even have been in a relationship. On Monday, Buster Murdaugh issued a denial. "These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false," Murdaugh said in a statement, per NBC News. "I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family."

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No Murdaugh family member has ever been officially accused of involvement in Smith's death. An independent autopsy will be performed, his mother says: "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." The body of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh family housekeeper whose 2018 death at the family estate is now being looked at again, may also be exhumed in the future. This file has been updated with Buster Murdaugh's statement. (More Murdaugh family stories.)

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