The South Carolina law enforcement agency investigating Stephen Smith’s murder said witnesses may be “more willing to speak freely now” than they were in 2021 — when it first opened the investigation days after the Murdo murders.
SLED (South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement) issued a lengthy — and somewhat flattering — statement on Wednesday suggesting that people may be more likely to come forward with information than they have been in the past.
“SLED President Mark Kiel has appointed additional regional agents from SLED Low Country to work on this case in hopes that those who may know what happened to Mr. Smith will be more willing to speak freely now than they were in 2015 or 2021,” the agency said.
The agency has not explained why it believes people are more likely to speak out now – with the statement coming just weeks after Alex Murdaugh was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul.
A few days after the murders of the mother and son on June 7, 2021, SLED announced that it had launched a new investigation into Smith’s death in 2015.
Smith, a nursing student and classmate of Murdo’s only surviving son, was found dead on a road in Hampton County, South Carolina, in the early hours of July 8, 2015 — not far from the prominent family’s estate.
Smith, a 19-year-old gay teen, had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his car was found about three miles down the road.
There were no skid marks around his body, no car wrecks, and the victim’s loosely tied shoes were still on his feet. Police reports also revealed that some of Smith’s injuries were inconsistent with a motor vehicle collision.
Despite the evidence, his death was ruled a hit and run—a verdict disputed by his mother, investigators in the original case, and members of the local community.
This week, SLED made the surprising announcement that the teen’s death is finally being investigated as a homicide – nearly two years after the new investigation began and almost eight years after his murder.
In the statement — released Wednesday “for accuracy, understanding, and an ongoing mission to seek justice for victims of crimes” — SLED claimed it was never asked to investigate Smith’s death in 2015.
“On July 8, 2015, the SLED Crime Scene Unit was asked by the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office to process the death scene of a body found on Sandy Run Road in Hampton County,” the agency said.
SLED crime scene agents responded to and processed the scene, but this “does not automatically indicate a SLED investigation”.
When the agents attended Smith’s autopsy, the medical examiner, Dr. Erin Presnell, ruled that he had died from a motor vehicle impact.
Because of this ruling, the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office asked the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) to investigate Smith’s death.
“Neither the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office nor the South Carolina Highway Patrol requested SLED to investigate Mr. Smith’s death in 2015,” the agency said.
Six years later – on June 23, 2021 – SLED opened an investigation into Smith’s death after it said “clients received information about his death and then reviewed the SCHP investigation file”.
“From SCHP’s case notes, it was clear that SCHP did not believe that Mr. Smith’s death was the result of a hit-and-run by motor vehicle. The SLED investigation into Mr. Smith’s death was never closed — it remains a homicide investigation,” the agency said.
“Progress has been made, and SLED investigations are active and ongoing. From the beginning of the SLED investigation, the goal has been to find out how Mr. Smith died and to find the person(s) responsible for his death.”
In addition to the SLED investigation into the murders, Ms. Smith and her attorneys have announced the launch of an independent investigation into his death — after raising more than $70,000 through a GoFundMe campaign.
The funds will now be used for the exhumation and private autopsy of the 19-year-old.
No one was charged in connection with Smith’s death and investigators never announced any connection between any member of the Mordo family and his crime.
But the case was brought into the national spotlight in the wake of the high-profile murders of Maggie and Paul and the subsequent trial of disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh.
During Smith’s initial investigation, Murdaugh’s name appeared 40 times in official documents in the case and there has long been a murmur in the community that a “Murdough boy” may have been involved, Live5News reported.
Mordo’s only now surviving son, Buster and Smith, were classmates, and there were rumors – though unsubstantiated – that the two were having some kind of affair around the time of his death.
These rumors were compiled in a heartbreaking letter penned by Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, to the FBI in 2016.
The letter — which referred to multiple witness accounts — resurfaced this week, just as Buster issued a statement denying any involvement in Smith’s murder.
In the letter asking the FBI to investigate her son’s death, Smith stated that Buster was the prime suspect in her son’s murder and claimed that there was some sort of cover-up to protect him.
She wrote that an alleged witness had told a family member that Buster had killed her son – by beating him to death with a baseball bat.
The unidentified witness – who claimed they were present during the killing – was allegedly forced into silence by Buster who threatened to kill them if they spoke about what had happened.
The bombshell letter also alleged that Randy Murdaugh—Buster’s uncle and Alex Murdaugh’s brother—called Smith’s parents hours after his body was discovered offering to represent them.
Ms. Smith said Randy quickly stopped answering the family’s calls.
said Smith’s attorney Ronnie Richter The Independent on Tuesday that the letter was “written by a grieving mother who was starving for information and had nothing but the rumor mill as a source so we’re trying to get better information this time.”
He added that the new independent investigation into Smith’s death “will not be affected by the rhetoric”, indicating that the investigation will take a new approach and start from scratch.
Buster’s attorney Jim Griffin admitted receipt The IndependentThe email asked for comment on the letter and said he would be in touch if or when Buster decided to comment.
A day before the letter appeared, Buster, now 26, broke his silence about Smith’s death to address the “vicious rumors” about his possible involvement for the first time.
“I have done my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in the tragic death of Stephen Smith that continue to circulate in the media as I mourn the brutal murder of my mother and brother. I love them so much and miss them so much,” he said in the statement.
I haven’t spoken yet because I want to live in private while I deal with their deaths and my father’s imprisonment.
Before, during and after my father’s trial, I was targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story.
“It has been way too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false.
“I categorically deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family. I ask the media to immediately stop spreading these defamatory comments and rumors about me.”
Smith’s lawyers have insisted that the independent investigation into Smith’s death is not about any member of a prominent legal dynasty – it is about taking a fresh look at the case from scratch.
“This is not Alex Murdaugh 2.0 or any other Murdaugh 2.0. This is Stephen Smith 2.0,” Bland said at Monday’s news conference.
This is about Stephen.
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