Grand jury formed in Stephen Smith death case: attorney

Stephen Smith, pictured right, died in suspicious circumstances in July 2015.

A grand jury is hearing evidence in the death of Stephen Smith, an openly gay teenager found dead in the middle of a road in South Carolina in 2015, according to an attorney for Smith’s mother.

Smith’s death and his family’s issues surrounding it have received renewed attention thanks to the prosecution of Alex Murdaugh for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. Smith was a classmate of Murdaugh’s eldest son, Buster.

“I can say there is a grand jury constituted and I think substantial progress is being made,” Eric Bland, an attorney representing Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, told Law&Crime. “I have been cleared to say that progress is being made and there are probably five to six people who have material information about what happened to Stephen.”

Bland said he hopes an answer on what happened to Smith could come by Labor Day.

“I think the consensus is that Stephen died on that road that night and he didn’t die anywhere else. So that’s the consensus. The question is what caused his death,” Bland said. .

Bland said he left the determination of Smith’s cause of death to independent experts hired by Smith’s mother. The experts: forensic pathologists Dr. Michelle DuPre and Dr. Dan Schultz, forensic anthropologist Dr. Heather Walsh-Haney and crime scene expert Dr. Kenny Kinsey.

Stephen Smith’s body was exhumed earlier this year and a second autopsy was performed in Florida. DuPre oversaw this process and informed Law&Crime when they got what they needed to make a decision. The autopsy results were shared with the South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement, or SLED. The results have not been made public.

Mystery has surrounded Smith’s death since it emerged that his cause and manner of death had been disputed in 2015. South Carolina State Highway Patrol investigators have questioned the findings of Dr. Erin Presnell, the pathologist who performed Smith’s first autopsy.

Presnell determined that Smith died of a hit-and-run and said the manner of death was undetermined. State troopers disputed Presnell’s findings, according to filing notes. In April, DuPre told Law&Crime she thought the first autopsy was thorough and professional.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol released the file on Smith’s death through Freedom of Information Act requests. Podcasters and journalists wrote about the case and the fact that Murdaugh’s name was mentioned by some interviewees, citing small-town gossip.

Documentaries produced by HBO and Netflix also cited the unfounded rumors regarding Stephen Smith and his high school classmate, Buster Murdaugh. Another Murdaugh connection to the Smith family: Randy Murdaugh, older brother of Alex Murdaugh, represented Stephen Smith’s father in a workers’ compensation claim.

Bland said a lawyer for Randy Murdaugh claims that shortly after Smith’s death, the teenager’s now deceased father and sister asked him for help with Smith’s death. Buster Murdaugh vehemently denied any involvement in Smith’s death.

“At this time, I don’t know of any direct connection between Murdaugh and the murder,” Bland told Law&Crime.

The grand jury will be able to issue subpoenas for records and witnesses to investigate Smith’s death, according to Bland.

Emails and calls sent to spokespersons for SLED and the South Carolina attorney general’s office were not returned on Friday. A spokesperson for SLED previously told Law&Crime that more resources could be directed to Smith’s death following the conviction of Alex Murdaugh for the murders and that progress was being made in the Smith case.

SLED has opened its own investigation into Smith’s homicide as officers investigate the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Meanwhile, Bland said Smith’s family, especially his mother, want answers about what happened once and for all.

“Sandy Smith is not looking for an explanation. She searches for the explanation. So if the explanation is that it was a hit and run, she’s okay with that,” Bland said. “I think she’s headed for peace. You know, the woman hasn’t had peace for eight years.

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