Following the conviction of Richard “Alex” Murdaugh for double murder, the family of a South Carolina teen found dead in 2015 is renewing their efforts to uncover the truth in the years-old “cold case.” According to the teen’s mother, funds have now been raised for an exhumation and independent autopsy.
Sandy Smith has waited impatiently for her own conclusion while Murdaugh’s trial captivated the world’s media and public attention from Jan. 23 until its March 2 conclusion, when Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife and son. She has, however, been waiting for eight years.
On July 8, 2015, the body of her son, Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student, was discovered in the middle of a rural road in Hampton County, not far from the Murdaugh property in Colleton County. He died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, but the case was fraught with controversy from the start.
Officials initially ruled the death a hit-and-run, but based on evidence at the scene, investigators later determined it was a homicide.
For years, rumors spread throughout the county that the case was linked to the Murdaugh family. That name was mentioned dozens of times in witness statements to police, but the case went cold, and there have been no arrests or even official confirmation that the case is related to Murdaugh or not.
In July 2021, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division launched a new investigation into Smith’s homicide, “based on information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.”
With the spotlight on Alex Murdaugh fading, the Smith family believes it is time to shed new light on their murder case. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched in order to raise funds for the exhumation and independent autopsy of Stephen Smith’s remains.
GoFundMe raises more than $41K in just over a week
Sandy Smith set up a GoFundMe page on March 10 to raise funds for the exhumation and independent autopsy.
The fundraising goal was $15,000, but after only one week, the page claims to have raised $41,034.
The Smith family does not want the state to conduct an autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where such studies are normally held in the region, according to the GoFundMe page.
“We believe it is critical to pursue a new goal: independent exhumation and autopsy,” the page says. “While the state can choose and fund an exhumation and new autopsy, we believe it will be performed at MUSC, where his death was initially classified as a hit-and-run despite the lack of evidence to support it.”
“We need a fresh, unbiased look at his body, as well as a fact-based determination of his cause of death. There was no debris in the road, and his injuries did not fit the description of a hit-and-run.”
According to the website, the autopsy alone is expected to cost $7,000. Furthermore, “a private medical examiner must be present from the beginning of the exhumation until the end of the examination period at a cost of approximately $750 per hour.”
This appears to be possible now, thanks to recent generous donors.
“The family of Stephen N. Smith is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from Standing for Stephen and the community at large. You have done so much to bring Stephen’s story and the lack of justice to light “According to Smith’s website.
“Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be forgotten. We will begin the exhumation process right away and provide updates along the way.”
When media reports of the Murdaugh cases began sweeping the nation, it sparked a movement for justice and support for LGBTQ teens like Smith called #StandingForStephen. That movement raised thousands and helped the Smith family erect a memorial on their son’s grave.
#StandingForStephen has now been replaced with a fresh initiative, #JusticeForStephen.
This initiative appears to have begun during the height of the Murdaugh murder trial. Smith began posting about it on her Facebook page in February, revealing her intention to exhume her son’s body for further investigation.