SLED investigating Stephen Smith’s death as a murder

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Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:18 PM EDT

HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has been investigating Stephen Smith’s death as a murder, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

Smith’s body was found along a rural Hampton County road more than seven years ago.

His mysterious death was initially ruled a hit-and-run, but the SLED reopened his case based on information gathered while investigating the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Earlier this week, Sandy Smith, Stephen’s mother, said she will seek to have his body exhumed as part of an independent investigation as she seeks to find closure in her son’s death.

On Tuesday, Smith family attorney Eric Bland said that SLED Chief Mark Keel called him to disclose the homicide investigation.

Bland and Ronnie Richter, who were retained by the Smith family last week, released a joint statement on Tuesday night, which reads: “SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide. However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence. We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves.”

A SLED spokeswoman confirmed that the phone call took place, and said that the agency continues its investigation into Smith’s death, an investigation that has been ongoing since 2021.

Bland said that Keel told him SLED was waiting until the conclusion of the Murdaugh murder trial to make the announcement out of concern that it could influence potential witnesses.

More SLED resources will be devoted to Smith’s case moving forward, according to Bland.

This announcement confirms what Sandy Smith had said for years, and what her attorneys said in a press conference on Monday.

They said they believed a “fresh set of eyes” would reveal the truth about what happened to Stephen.

“I just love my son, and since I couldn’t protect him, I’m going to fight for him,” Smith said.

WIS will keep you updated on developments as they become available.

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