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Death of Murdaugh-linked Stephen Smith ruled as homicide

Death of Murdaugh-linked Stephen Smith ruled as homicide

The 2015 death of Murdaugh-linked Stephen Smith is now considered to be a murder, South Carolina authorities revealed — ahead of the planned exhumation of the gay teen’s body.

The state law enforcement division had been waiting to drop the bombshell development until after the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial wrapped up and the ensuing drama quieted down, Bland Richter Law Firm announced Tuesday.

“SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide,” said Charleston attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who were retained by Smith’s mother.

SLED was holding out on the announcement “out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence.”

SLED revisited Smith’s case — originally deemed a hit-and-run — following the 2021 murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, for which father and husband Alex was convicted on March 3.

Officials said “new evidence” connecting the established legal family to Smith’s death was discovered during the double murder investigation, but have not elaborated further.

Stephen Smith.
Smith was found dead on the side of the road near the Murdaugh estate in 2015.
Courtesy of Sandy Smith

Smith — an openly gay teen who was romantically linked to Buster Murdaugh — was found dead three miles away from his car on a road near the Murdaugh’s massive estate in July 2015.

He was found with a large wound to the right side of his forehead, a dislocated shoulder and cuts to his left hand.

Police initially stated the death “appeared to be a homicide,” but an autopsy performed the same day he was found dead ruled he had been the victim of a hit-and-run.

Police at the scene of Smith's murder.
Police ruled Smith was a victim of a hit-and-run.

“I really don’t know why they did what they did,” Smith’s mother, Sandy, told News Nation Tuesday about the death ruling.

“I just knew in my heart that what they were telling me wasn’t true … I believe he was beaten to death.”

Sandy has long disputed the official recorded cause of death and has raised over $80,000 to exhume her son’s body.

Stephen Smith with his mother, Sandy
Sandy Smith has long rejected the hit-and-run ruling and believes her son Stephen was beaten to death.
Couresty of Family

Sandy has not directly tied the Murdaughs to her son’s murder, but plenty of internet sleuths and true crime journalists tied the mysterious death to the legal giant family.

On Monday, Buster Murdaugh “unequivocally” denied “vicious rumors” that he was involved in the Smith’s murder.

A Netflix special detailing the double murders — and other suspicious deaths related to the family — detailed speculations that Buster and Smith secretly dated in high school despite his family’s homophobic history.

Buster Murdaugh, second from right, son of defendant Alex Murdaugh, looks to his father.
Buster Murdaugh rejected “rumors” he or his family was involved in Smith’s death.

“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false,” Buster said in a statement.

SLED officials have agreed to participate in the exhumation to gather more evidence as part of the murder investigation.

“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” Bland said.