Stephen Smith family attorneys to ask court for body to be exhumed

Buster Murdaugh releases statement addressing rumors
Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County on July 8, 2015.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 7:57 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2023 at 4:55 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Attorneys representing the family of a Hampton County teen found dead in the middle of the road in 2015 say they plan to petition a court to exhume the teen’s body as they seek justice in his killing.

Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter on Sunday announced they were representing Sandy Smith, Stephen Smith’s mother, in the investigation into the death of her son.

“What we’re going to do is start over,” Bland said. “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.”

Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County on July 8, 2015.

“There were no skid marks around his body. There were no there was no vehicular debris found,” Richter said. “His loosely tied shoes were still on his feet. His motor vehicle was about three miles away on Bamburgh Road, with the gas cap removed, and while it would appear that his car broke down and he had walked for help, he never called for help from the cell phone that was found on his body. Sandy Smith has never accepted the conclusion of the cursory investigation that followed his death that concluded that his death was a result of a hit and run.”

The family launched an online fundraiser on Mar. 9 to Smith’s body independently exhumed and examined. As of Monday morning, that fundraiser which set a goal of $15,000, had raised more than $65,000.

Bland said the first step is to petition the court to allow Smith’s body to be exhumed so that it can be examined in an independent investigation.

“We’re going to have to petition the court to show facts that would indicate that a fresh set of eyes, a new autopsy may yield a different conclusion,” Bland said, suggesting that it was possible Smith was not killed on Sandy Run Road, “that maybe he was killed somewhere else.”

Bland insisted that this investigation is focused solely on Stephen Smith.

“This is not an Alex Murdaugh 2.0 or any Murdaugh 2.0,” he said. “This is a Stephen Smith 2.0. It’s all about Steven. And what we intend to do is look at his life. You know, look at the life 90 days before July 8, 2015, look at who he was associating with. Who were his friends? What kind of communications that he had. What were his plans? We knew that he was a nursing student and obviously wanted to become a doctor. We think a lot of the pre-death communications can be relevant. We also think that post-death communications on different people could yield some information.”

Bland said their job is not to find out who was responsible, but rather to “give a mother answers.”

“We intend to share anything that we may find in our own investigation with law enforcement,” Bland said. “There’s no secret sauce here. There’s no intent on us trying to Trump anybody. It’s our goal that we can all work jointly together.”

The attorneys will also reach out to experts in the field who have performed autopsies on bodies several years after death, Richter said.

“It’s going to be hard to open an investigation after eight years, but it has to start with an examination of his body and an independent determination of the true cause of death, which we don’t accept to be vehicular manslaughter,” he said.

The money raised will be used to exhume the body, conduct the autopsy, and to 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. But they vowed there would be “full transparency” on how the money will be spent.

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

“We think we have good cause to show why a fresh set of eyes on this would be beneficial,” Richter said. “The fact that Steven’s body is apparently placed in the middle of the roadway and there’s no debris of any kind present really leads us to believe that that is not what caused his death. So I don’t care if it’s the mirror or the bumper or what part of the car might have struck him. It just makes no sense to us.”

“Stephen had loose shoes on, so if you’re hit by a vehicle that’s going fast enough, that’s going to project you,” Bland said. “Your shoes are just going to fall off under the best of circumstances. His were loose and untied, so it’s almost inconceivable that his shoes didn’t come off.”

Bland also cited the growing public intrest in supporting Sandy Smith’s cause.

“I would find it hard to believe that a judge would take the position, ‘No, we don’t want to give a mother a grieving mother the answers that she’s looking for,’” he said.

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.”

Buster Murdaugh issues statement on rumors in Smith investigation

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 the following statement Monday morning in response to ongoing rumors that he was involved in Smith’s death:

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

The first tip comes in early August, suggesting swirling rumors of a relationship between Smith and Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s eldest and now only surviving son.

Another rumor claims Buster Murdaugh and two other boys were responsible for the crime.

An investigator also fields another tip about another possible suspect.

That tipster tells them he passed along the information at the request of a well-known family Patriarch, former solicitor Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh’s father and Buster Murdaugh’s grandfather.

No interviews are recorded with any member of the Murdaugh family during the initial investigation.

Attorneys representing the mother of Stephen Smith will ask for his body to be exhumed for an independent autopsy into his 2015 death.