HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Stephen Smith’s mother wants a thorough and impartial investigation into her son’s death.
She has now enlisted a legal team to help make that happen.
“Its important to me because I love my son. And because I couldn’t protect him,” said Sandy Smith. “I intend to fight for him.”
It’s been eight years since the 19-year-old was found dead along Sandy Run Road in Hampton County. Investigators said Smith died of blunt head trauma from a hit-and-run.
Shortly after the deaths of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced it was reopening the investigation due to information received during a separate investigation into the June 2021 shootings.
SLED did not elaborate on its investigator’s findings nor provide information about a possible relationship between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family.
But Smith’s family believes there’s more to the story.
“We are going to start over,” said Eric Bland. “We will hire experts to look at this case with fresh eyes, with an open mind, without any preconceived conclusions, and bring objective wherever the facts go. That’s where the investigation will go.”
Attorney Eric Bland said in the next seven to 10 days, his office plans to file a request to have Stephen’s body exhumed. The first step is to petition the court.
“Hopefully, a judge will see we have good cause to open’s Stephen’s death,” said Attorney Eric Bland.
The legal firm plans to bring in independent pathologists to do the new autopsy, and accident reconstruction experts to recreate the scene.
“We think that he did not die on that road that fateful night,” he added. “We think that there were other reasons and other causes.”
“At approximately 4 am Stephen Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run road in Hampton County,” said Ronnie Richter, Sandy Smith’s attorney. “There were no skid marks near his body there was no vehicular debris found, and his loosely tied shoes were still on his feet.”
Richter says Smith’s car was found 3 miles away on Bamberg road with the gas cap removed.
“While it appeared his car broke down and he has walked for help, he never called for help from his cell phone that was on his body,” said Richter. “If you strike an animal on a highway debris is everywhere. Stephen’s body is in the middle of the roadway and no debris is present. that’s why we don’t believe its what caused his death.”
“Forensic experts will be able to determine if he was struck by an automobile. Certainly, there will be marks on his body from the bumper of a car or a hood,” explained Richter. “To our knowledge, there was only shoulder up injuries. which would mean to us he wasn’t struck by a bumper of a car.”
On Monday, the surviving Murdaugh son, Buster, released a statement denying “vicious rumors” about his involvement in Smith’s death.
The statement reads, in part:
“Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story. This has gone on far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family. I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me.”
Richter says this investigation is not about Buster, or anyone else.
“We have not mentioned Buster Murdaugh’s name one time. this is not about Buster Murdaugh this is about Stephen Smith this is about getting answers to questions his mother is desperately getting answers for. there is no reason to discuss Buster Murdaugh and no reason to respond to Buster Murdaugh.”
Bland said this isn’t about finding out who committed the crime.
“That’s not what we do, we’re not law enforcement, we’re not doing a criminal case — we’re helping an investigation,” he said, “and what we’re really trying to do is give a mother answers.”
“It may be that it was vehicular manslaughter,” said Bland. “That’s still a crime. That’s still someone who is driving around and hit and killed a young man and didn’t stay and take responsibility. We don’t think that will be the case, but that could be the conclusion”
Sandy Smith, Stephen’s mother, recently launched a GoFundMe to help cover the costs of an independent exhumation and autopsy. It’s since raised nearly $72,000, well surpassing the $15,000 fundraising goal.
Smith’s legal team said they want to assure the public that every dollar from the fund is going to the investigation, expert fees and exhumation costs.