The 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a former classmate of Buster Murdaugh, the only living son of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh, is now being investigated as a homicide, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division confirmed to CNN on Wednesday (March 22).
The spokesperson also confirmed that there were no indications that Smith's death was a hit-and-run, opposing the initial ruling in an incident report, following the agency's investigation.
"I've been waiting on this news for almost 8 years!" Sandy Smith, Stephen's mother, wrote in an email to the Hampton County Guardian Tuesday night (March 21). "I'm in shock, I'm elated, I'm waiting for the next chapter!"
The decision comes days after CNN reported that Smith's body would be exhumed nearly two years after state authorities reopened a probe into his death following scrutiny of disgraced former attorney Alex Murdaugh, who was convicted in the murders of his wife, Margaret and son, Paul, earlier this month. Smith's family raised more than $65,000 through a GoFundMe page to finance an exhumation and private autopsy in what they called a "fight for justice" as many believe the 19-year-old's death was linked to the Murdaugh family.
“I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did,” Sandy Smith wrote. “Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under a rug. We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way.”
Authorities haven't officially announced a connection between the Murdaugh family to Smith's death, which was initially deemed to be a hit and run incident caused by blunt force trauma to the head, according to a South Carolina Highway Patrol incident report. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) did, however, announce that it reopened the Smith investigation two weeks after the deaths of Magaret and Paul Murdaugh based on information gathered during a probe into those murders.
“SLED has made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith, however this investigation remains active and ongoing," the agency said in a statement to CNN on Sunday (March 19).
Buster Murdaugh issued a statement Monday (March 20) denying any involvement in his former classmate's death, stating that he was “requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me."
“This has gone on far too long,” the statement obtained by CNN read. “These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false.”
A pathologist cited in a SLED report initially claimed Smith had been hit by a vehicle, however, the responding officer noted in a report conducted by the South Carolina Highway Patrol's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team said there were "no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle" in relation to Smith's death.
Alex Murdaugh, 54, was convicted by a jury of seven men and five women in relation to the June 2021 fatal shootings of his wife and son, and could face 30 years to life in prison without parole. The former attorney was also convicted on two counts of possession of a weapon during a violent crime, which could add more than five additional years to his sentence.
Murdaugh was indicted on July 14 in relation to the charges, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel announced at the time via CNN. Margaret and Paul Murdaugh were both found dead three days after Alex Murdaugh's father, Randolph, had also died. In December 2021, a copy of her last will and testament obtained by the Island Packet revealed that Margaret Murdaugh left her entire property to her husband before she and their son were mysteriously killed.
The S.C. Law Enforcement Division announced the new details about Maggie Murdaugh's will, which was signed in 2005, and her estate records in connection to the murders of herself and her son, though no arrests had been made at the time. The Island Packet reported Alex Murdaugh, who has been jailed since October 2021 in connection to a separate case, was entitled to the family's 1,770-acre property, which sits between Hampton and Colleton Counties in South Carolina, according to his late wife's will signed on August 15, 2005.
Alex Murdaugh had previously owned a property knowns as "Moselle" since 2013, but property records show he transferred ownership to his wife in 2016. Alex Murdaugh was arrested at a drug rehab facility in Orlando, Florida on October 14, 2021, where his attorneys confirmed he had been staying for six weeks after being shot in the head, which was later proved to be part of a conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
The 53-year-old attorney was accused of hiring a hitman to kill him so his other son could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy and later formally charged with two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses in relation to stealing insurance funds from a settlement in the 2018 death of his late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.