Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith was found dead in the middle of a South Carolina road in 2015. His body was dug up over the weekend so that an independent autopsy could be done.

Smith’s body was successfully dug up, moved, and a second autopsy was done before “transporting him back and then putting him back to his final resting place this past weekend,” attorney Eric Bland said in a tweet Sunday night.

Bland said, “I think Stephen can finally rest easy knowing that SLED and our team will do everything we can to find out how he died.”

South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said last month that it was looking into Smith’s death as a murder based on information learned in 2021 while looking into the deaths of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and her son Paul Murdaugh. The agency didn’t say what that information was, and Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family haven’t been linked in any way.

On July 8, 2015, Smith’s body was found on the side of a road in Hampton County. His death was ruled a hit-and-run in both the initial report and the medical examiner’s report. The report said that blunt head trauma from being hit by a car was the cause of death.

But a spokesperson for SLED said last month that there was nothing in the investigation that showed that was the case.

Smith’s family has raised over $100,000 to put towards the exhumation and a private autopsy in what his mother described on a GoFundMe page as a “fight for justice.”

The scene where Smith’s body was found

The case file from the South Carolina Highway Patrol’s Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team, or MAIT, says that early on July 8, 2015, a driver found Smith’s body in the middle of Sandy Run Road in Hampton County and told the police.

In the first report, an officer wrote that Smith had suffered head trauma from a blow to the head. Diagrams of the scene show that his body was in the road, right in the middle of the road, but the officer saw no signs of a car accident.

The officer who came to help said, “There were no car parts, skid marks, or injuries that would have been caused by a car hitting someone.”

The report also said that Smith’s shoes were on and only loosely tied, and there was no sign that he had been hit by a car.

In an interview that was written up in the case file, Smith’s family said that he would never have been walking in the middle of the road, where his body was found, because he was “very skittish.”

The report said that his car was found about 3 miles away, with the gas tank door open and the gas cap hanging off the side. Even though the car’s battery worked, the car wouldn’t start, the report said.

Wound to Smith’s head

The case file shows that the first people to arrive at the scene thought Smith’s death was a murder and not because she was hit by a car.

Thomas Moore, a trooper with the State Highway Patrol, wrote in his notes that when he got to the scene, the county coroner “immediately told me it was a homicide” and showed him a wound on Smith’s head that he thought was a gunshot wound. Two other people who helped, an EMS worker and a sheriff’s deputy, also thought Smith’s head wound was caused by a gunshot, according to separate reports.

In the report, it is important to note that SLED agents did not agree that the head wound was caused by a bullet, and no bullet casings were found.

Smith’s mother told CNN that at the time, different ideas were given to the family. First, they were told it was a gunshot, she said. Then he got hit. She then said there was a hit-and-run.

Investigators seem to have questioned the idea that Smith was killed in a hit-and-run at the time. At least two people disagreed with the pathologist who did the autopsy, and their notes show that the county coroner did not agree with her conclusion.

SLED said in June 2021 that it would start looking into Smith’s death because of what they had learned while looking into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh earlier that month.

Alex Murdaugh, the patriarch of the family, was put on trial for killing Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7, 2021. He was found guilty last month and given a life sentence. Murdaugh has tried to get his convictions changed.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol gave CNN a copy of the case file from the first investigation into Smith’s death. It shows that both witnesses and investigators brought up the name Murdaugh dozens of times, including the name of Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster.

In one recording of a witness interview, then-Trooper Todd Proctor is heard saying, “Buster was on our radar. … The Murdaughs know that. It’s not clear why he was on the minds of investigators, though. No one, including Buster Murdaugh, has been charged in the case.

Smith’s former classmate Buster Murdaugh said in a statement last month that he had nothing to do with Smith’s death and asked the media to “immediately stop publishing these false comments and rumors about me.”

His statement said, “This has gone on for far too long.” “These false rumors that I had something to do with Stephen’s death are not true.”

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