HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s (SLED) declaration of “homicide” comes just one day after the family said it was going to ask a judge to exhume Stephen Smith’s body and start an investigation of their own.

Now, SLED is talking about the previous investigation as Stephen’s mom outlines what she thinks happened to her son.

“I just love my son and since I couldn’t protect him, I’m going to fight for him,” she said. 

And now Sandy Smith will have help in that fight.

SLED’S statement that Stephen Smith’s death was not a hit and run but a “homicide” means that the family and law enforcement will be on the same page–sharing information–and working together to find his killer.

Ronnie Richter, Smith’s attorney, said, “Resources had been deployed on this case and with the Murdaugh case wrapping up which was certainly a drain on their resources. They had more resources available and were starting fresh.”

In a news release Wednesday, SLED distanced itself from the original investigation. They said it was “never” contacted by either Hampton County Sheriff Office’s or the South Carolina Highway Patrol after Stephen’s body was found on Sandy Run Road in July of 2015.

It only reopened the case seven years later in June of 2022 when SLED investigators got new information about Stephen’s killing.

Sandy Smith said, “I believe he was beaten to death. Why and by whom?”

She continued, “That I don’t know. That’s what I need answers for.”

Smith’s other attorney Eric Bland said, “I think it was a hate crime. Stephen was a courageous young man to live an openly gay lifestyle in the Lowcountry of the South in 2015.”  

While many questions still remain about what happened that night to Stephen, University of South Carolina law professor and former prosecutor Joe McCulloch says SLED needs to also focus on another mystery.

What happened to this investigation in the first place?

“People involved in the original investigation steering this away, this investigation to an accident from a homicide,” McCulloch said. “To me, that is the far more important question and only SLED has that information today.”