HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV/WCBD) – Attorneys for the mother of Stephen Smith, who was found dead along a rural Hampton County road in 2015, say that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has ruled the death a homicide.

SLED confirmed the information Tuesday night.

The news came following a call between attorney Eric Bland and SLED Chief Mark Keel, according to Bland Richter Law Firm.

Smith’s death was originally ruled a highway vehicular manslaughter. At the time, rumors circulated claiming that the prominent Murdaugh family was somehow connected to the death, but those rumors were never validated.

The case was reopened in 2021 after SLED found new evidence while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. SLED did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence, nor whether it connected any member of the Murdaugh family to Smith’s death. The Murdaugh family has adamantly denied any involvement.

However, Bland and Richter said that SLED admitted to waiting until after the Murdaugh murder trial was over to make the announcement about the death being ruled a homicide “out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence.”

On Monday, the Bland Richter Law Firm announced that it would represent Sandy Smith, Smith’s mother, in an independent investigation.

Sandy Smith raised money to exhume her son’s body as part of the independent investigation, but “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 Richter said. “However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence.”

SLED released a statement following the announcement made by the law firm that said in part:

“On June 23, 2021, SLED opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith after SLED Agents received information about his death and subsequently reviewed the SCHP investigative file. From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle.

SLED’s investigation into the death of Mr. Smith was never closed – it remains a homicide investigation.

Progress has been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing.

Since the beginning of SLED’s investigation, the goal has been to find out how Mr. Smith died and find the person(s) responsible for his death. To that end, SLED Chief Mark Keel has assigned additional SLED Low Country Regional Agents to work this case in the hopes that those who may know what happened to Mr. Smith are more willing to speak freely now than they may have been in 2015 or 2021.”