Lawyers for the family of a South Carolina teen found dead near the estate of the Murdaugh family in 2015 claim that state police now consider it an “intentional killing.”
Attorney Eric Bland said he spoke with the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on Tuesday evening and was stunned by what he called “an extraordinary disclosure.”
Bland quoted SLED Chief Mark Keel as saying, “Right now we don’t know who murdered Stephen but we do believe it was an intentional killing.”
SLED confirmed to The Daily Beast that the call took place but did not confirm what was said.
Smith, 19, was found dead on a backcountry road in Hampton, South Carolina, not far from the Murdaugh hunting estate—where patriarch Alex Murdaugh would fatally shoot his wife and son in 2021. A medical examiner concluded that Smith died from a hit-and-run accident.
Shortly after Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison, SLED announced they would open an investigation into Smith’s death “based upon information gathered during the course of the double-murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
The call between Bland and SLED comes one day after the only surviving son of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh, Buster, released a statement slamming “vicious rumors” and denying any involvement in his high school classmate's death.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother. I love them so much and I miss them terribly,” Murdaugh said. “I haven’t spoken up until now because I want to live in private while I cope with their deaths and my father’s incarceration.”
The statement also came just moments before Smith’s mother and her legal team announced a “new investigation” into Stephen’s death, which will include an exhumation and an independent autopsy.
“SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith's body to convince them that his death was a homicide,” Bland and the other lawyer in the case, Ronald Richter, said Tuesday.
“However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen's body to gather more evidence. We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves.”
The lawyers added that SLED noted in the phone call that they were waiting until Murdaugh’s murder trial was finished before making an announcement about the update in Smith’s case “out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence.”
“Since the conclusion of the Murdaugh trial, more resources have been devoted and will be devoted to Stephen Smith's case,” the lawyers added.
“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that.”
In a News Nation interview on Tuesday evening, Sandy Smith said she was “elated” to hear the latest development into her son’s death—noting that she has been fighting for more answers since 2015.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” she said, before later adding that she knew in her “heart” that the initial findings into Smith’s death were not accurate.
More here from Stephen's mom Sandra Smith and attorney Eric Bland about Stephen's death officially being classified as a homicide.
Bland says investigators will be present when the body is exhumed and investigators "believe there is a small circle of people who have information." pic.twitter.com/isbtw4PDlV
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) March 22, 2023
On Monday, the lawyers noted their intention to begin their own investigation into the teenager after his mother, Sandy Smith, launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for an independent autopsy. As of Tuesday, the Smith family has raised over $80,000 to ensure an “unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts.”
“SLED is publicly supporting us, Sandy Smith, and her efforts to find out what really happened to her son,” Richter added. “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.”