Current News



'His body is a crime scene': Exhumation plans proceeding in Stephen Smith's 2015 killing

John Monk and Ted Clifford, The State on

Published in News & Features

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Plans to exhume Stephen Smith’s body are proceeding rapidly and will involve a team of state and national experts, one of the attorneys for Stephen Smith’s mother said Friday.

“As far as we’re concerned, his body is a crime scene,” attorney Ronnie Richter said.

Richter’s statements in an interview with The State Media Co. came after a flurry of state and national renewed interest last week in the death of Smith, 19, an openly gay teenager whose body was found in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015, in the middle of the two-lane Sandy Run Road in rural Hampton County.

Smith’s death was originally ruled as caused by a hit-and-run in 2015. But Tuesday, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel told The State newspaper his agency had discarded that theory and was conducting a murder investigation.

Over the years, numerous news stories have mentioned the family of Alex Murdaugh, the disgraced Lowcountry lawyer, in connection with Smith’s death. To date, no evidence has tied Smith to any members of the Murdaugh family. Stories have also mentioned that Buster, Murdaugh’s older son, was a classmate of Smith’s at Wade Hampton High School in Hampton County years ago.

Buster, 26, issued a public statement last week denying he had anything to do with Smith’s death. Murdaugh was convicted earlier this month in a Colleton County jury trial of the 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul.


Keel’s public statement acknowledging the murder investigation came a day after Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, announced that she had hired attorneys Richter and Eric Bland to assist in the investigation of her son’s death. Richter and Bland are widely credited with being instrumental in the fall of 2021 in exposing Murdaugh’s numerous alleged financial crimes for allegedly stealing from clients and his own law firm.

Keel’s announcement has focused renewed attention on the 2015 ruling by Medical University of South Carolina forensic pathologist Dr. Erin Presnell that Smith’s death was a hit-and-run, even after S.C. Highway Patrol investigators said they believed that injuries to Smith’s body and other evidence were inconsistent with a hit-and-run.

In a case note contained in a report produced by the Highway Patrol’s elite Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team, lead investigator Todd Proctor wrote that he spoke with Presnell in person and expressed disagreement with her assessment that Smith’s death was by a hit-and-run. Presnell had a “negative tone,” Proctor wrote in the report, and said it was “my job to figure out what it was that struck (Smith), not hers.”

Presnell did not change her determination between the draft and final report. Writing in her conclusion, “It is the opinion of the pathologist that the decedent died as the result of blunt head trauma sustained in a motor vehicle crash, in which the decadent was a pedestrian struck by a vehicle.”


swipe to next page

©2023 The State. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus