The mother of Stephen Smith, of Hampton County, South Carolina, a teenager found dead in the middle of a road in 2015, raised more than $70,000 last week to pay for the exhumation of her son’s body and a second independent autopsy as she hires new lawyers to relaunch the investigation into her death.
“I just love my son. And, since I couldn’t protect him, I’m going to fight for him,” Sandy Smith told Law&Crime on Monday.
Questions about the circumstances surrounding Smith’s death have never been answered. In the early morning hours of July 8, 2015, a motorist traveling on Sandy Run Rd. in Hampton County spotted Smith’s body on the road and called 911. Smith’s yellow vehicle was parked some distance away with unscrewed fuel cap. The 19-year-old had a mobile phone with him and his mum insists he wouldn’t have walked along the road home.
“He would have called his twin sister. Which is closest to where his body was found in his car. He would have called her and she would have picked him up,” Sandy Smith said.
According to reports from the South Carolina Highway Patrol, some officers who arrived at the scene that morning believed Smith had been shot in the head. But an autopsy conducted by pathologist Dr Erin Parnell determined Smith died of a hit-and-run, suffering head trauma and a dislocated shoulder.
This discovery did not sit well with some of the soldiers and investigators along with members of the Highway Patrol, who believed that Smith had been killed elsewhere and his body had been placed on the road. Some soldiers noted that no debris was found on the road, which likely would have existed if Smith had been hit by a vehicle.
“He was a wonderful, amazing son. He was very intelligent. Spontaneous,” Sandy Smith said of her son. “He was like my world. He loved books, he loved school, and he loved his family.
Stephen Smith, LGBTQ activist and nursing student, died in suspicious circumstances in July 2015.
Smith was studying to become a nurse when he was killed and paying for his education. He was openly gay and his mother said he was bullied at school for it. But his mother said he was comfortable with his sexual identity and didn’t let the bullying bother him.
Following the murders of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, opened an investigation into Smith’s death. At the time, an agency spokesperson said information came to light during the Murdaugh investigation that led SLED to launch its own investigation into Smith’s death. However, no one at the agency ever said there was a connection between the Murdaugh homicides and Smith’s death.
Sandy Smith said SLED officers were keeping in touch with her about the investigation, but couldn’t reveal much as the investigation was ongoing. A spokesperson for the agency told Law&Crime last week: “Progress has been made. The inquest into the death of Stephen Smith is active and ongoing.
While Sandy Smith waited years for answers, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Last week she set up a GoFundMe page to raise $15,000 to exhume Stephen’s body and have a second independent autopsy performed to find out once and for all what happened to her son. The page quickly surpassed that initial goal and has now raised over $71,000.
Although money for the exhumation and autopsy has been raised, a judge is expected to approve the exhumation of Stephen Smith’s body. Smith’s new attorneys will have to petition the court and explain why Smith’s body should be removed from its final resting place. This process could begin within the next 30 days.
Sandy Smith is now represented by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who say they are giving their time to the case. Bland and Richter represented the family of the late housekeeper and nanny of the Murdaugh family, Gloria Satterfield. They also represented some of the victims of Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
Richter said the remaining money collected by the GoFundMe page will be used to hire investigators, a pathologist and other experts who can help determine what happened to Smith and who is responsible.
“There are people who can help us look through all of the electronic information from his cell phone and other devices. So it will be a whole team approach,” Richter said Monday. “Most importantly, we need of this key piece of someone of national repute who has done exhumations before. You could do a pathology on an eight-year-old body now and hopefully tell us some new information that we didn’t know before.
Bland told a news conference that civil lawsuits could be filed, which would give him and Richter the power to subpoena and compel some people to turn over electronic devices for examination. Bland believes that Smith’s communications before his death and the communications of others after his death could provide information that would solve the case.
“I just want to thank everyone for all the love and support they give us to do this job and do it right,” Sandy Smith said of people who donated to the cause.
Meanwhile, Sandy Smith said she would like to create a scholarship in her son’s name with all the money left over from the fund. She said Smith always talked about the cost of textbooks for nursing school.
Anyone with information about Stephen Smith’s death can call the Bland Richter Law Firm at 843-573-9900.
Meanwhile, on Monday morning, before Sandy Smith and his new attorneys held a press conference, Alex Murdaugh’s attorney, Jim Griffin, posted a statement on Twitter on behalf of Buster Murdaugh, who was a comrade of class of Stephen Smith and knew each other.
Despite the lack of evidence, Smith’s death inquest file includes some people reporting unsubstantiated rumors they had heard about Buster Murdaugh being somehow involved in Smith’s death. However, Buster Murdaugh was never named a suspect or person of interest in the case. On Monday morning, Buster Murdaugh released a statement saying, “I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.”
Buster Murdaugh added: ‘I have done my best to ignore the vicious rumors of my involvement in the tragic death of Stephen Smith which continue to appear in the media as I mourn the brutal murders of my mother and my son. brother. I love them so much and miss them terribly.
Eric Bland said Monday they were unaware that Buster Murdaugh had any involvement in Smith’s death.
“As we sit here today, Buster is a victim. He lost a mother, a brother, and now his father is in jail. Buster, as we know, had nothing to do with it,” Bland said.
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