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Body of teenager killed in hit-and-run near Murdaugh estate to be exhumed

The mother of a South Carolina teenager found dead on a rural road in 2015 says she plans to have his body exhumed for an independent autopsy as his case sparks renewed interest following the arrest and the murder conviction of Alex Murdaugh.

On a GoFundMe page that quickly raised more than $43,000 – enough to pay for the exhumation of teenage Stephen Smith – his mother thanked her followers for ‘not letting Stephen’s story be swept under the rug “.

“This is Stephen’s year,” Sandy Smith told NBC News on Friday.

The family’s bid for answers was energized in June 2021 in the weeks following the murders of Margaret Murdaugh, 52, and her son, Paul, 22, at their Colleton County estate. Agents from the South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement, or SLED, said their investigation into the murders, which were unsolved at the time, had led to reviews of other deaths. mysterious in the region and who had a connection with the powerful family.

SLED said it was opening an investigation into Smith’s death “based on information gathered during the double murder investigation.”

Investigators said in 2015 it appeared Smith, 19, was struck by a vehicle as he stood outside his car after running out of gas, NBC affiliate WCBD reported. in Charleston. The incident happened in Hampton County, about 15 miles from the Murdaugh property known as Moselle.

Initially, Smith was found with a “defensive wound” to his hand, according to an investigator’s report obtained by The Island Packet, and a homicide investigation has been opened. However, the case became muddled when a medical examiner later wrote in a report that Smith’s cause of death was the result of being struck in the head by a car mirror, as part of a apparent hit-and-run.

But neither glass nor car debris was found where Smith’s body was or in the immediate area, The Island Packet reported.

Meanwhile, South Carolina Highway Patrol investigators said they received reports that Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Buster, may have been connected. An investigator attempted to contact Buster, but the extent of the conversation that took place is unclear. State investigators declined to discuss the case.

Stephen Smith, right, with his mother, Sandy Smith.Courtesy of Sandy Smith

Buster Murdaugh and Smith reportedly graduated in 2014 from the same Hampton County high school.

No member of the Murdaugh family has been directly named as being involved in Smith’s death. His case has drawn attention with public fascination with the Murdaugh saga and has been included in recent docuseries on HBO Max and Netflix.

Smith’s family and friends shared their concern for him as an openly gay teenager in a largely conservative region.

Alex Murdaugh, a once-prominent attorney and scion of a well-connected legal family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, was convicted this month of murdering his wife and son. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and still faces a slew of financial charges related to the embezzlement of millions of dollars from clients and his family’s law firm.

Alex Murdaugh listens to testimony during his double murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, SC
Alex Murdaugh listens to testimony at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on February 27.Jeff Blake/AP File

His lawyers plan to appeal his double murder conviction.

Among those Murdaugh was accused of robbing was the family of his housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 in what was initially described as an accidental fall at the Murdaugh estate.

Lawyers for Satterfield’s adult sons eventually recovered millions of dollars owed to his estate.

The circumstances surrounding Satterfield’s death were questioned in 2021 by the Hampton County coroner, who requested that his case be reopened because no autopsy had been performed.

“On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled ‘natural,’ which is inconsistent with injuries sustained from a trip and fall,” the coroner wrote to state investigators.

Body of teenager killed in hit-and-run near Murdaugh estate to be exhumed

SLED also announced in June 2022 that it would exhume Satterfield’s body as part of the investigation, which his family said they support in order to definitively rule out foul play.

Sandy Smith has also argued there is more to what happened to his son than a hit-and-run and believes he was beaten by how his body was found on the road.

She said on Friday that she last spoke with SLED investigators about three weeks ago and would receive assistance with her son’s exhumation from attorney Eric Bland, who is also representing Satterfield’s sons.

Any remaining donations after the exhumation and autopsy would go to a scholarship fund to help students pay for their books, Sandy Smith added. Her son was pursuing a nursing career at the time of her death.

In a statement Friday, SLED said it had “made progress” in its investigation into Smith’s death and “remains active and ongoing.”

Sandy Smith said she wanted an independent exhumation and autopsy because she didn’t want it done by the same medical facility that originally classified her son’s death as a hit-and-run “despite no evidence at hand.” ‘support”.

“We need a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page.

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