Who Was Stephen Smith? Teen's Death Earlier Treated as Hit-and-Run Now Ruled Homicide, Day after Buster Murdaugh Denied 'Vicious Rumors'

Smith, an openly gay teen who had a romantic relationship with Buster Murdaugh, was found dead on a road three miles from his vehicle in July 2015.

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The mysterious death of Stephen Smith is now being considered a homicide, eight years after the teenager was found dead near Buster Murdaugh's family home. The announcement was made on Tuesday following a call with Chief Mark Keel of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which is being represented by the Bland Richter Law Firm.

Smith, then 19 years old, was found dead about 15 miles from the South Carolina home of the Murdaugh family in July 2015. His death has thus far been ruled as vehicular manslaughter but in a shocking development, lawyers today revealed that Smith's death will now be treated as a murder.

Murder, Not Accident

Stephen Smith
Stephen Smith Twitter

According to the Bland Richter Law Group, the state law enforcement division waited to reveal the shocking development until after the Alex Murdaugh double homicide trial was over and the surrounding excitement subsided.

According to law enforcement, they were able to prove that the 19-year-old's death was a homicide without even having to exhume his body. However, they announced that they would " be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen's body to gather more evidence."

Buster Murdaugh
Buster Murdaugh Twitter

"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.

The police department was waiting to make the announcement as witnesses might not be as forthcoming in the Murdaugh zone of influence.

SLED reopened Smith's case, which was initially looked into as a hit-and-run, following the 2021 murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, for which father and husband Alex was found guilty on March 3.

Authorities reportedly found "new evidence" linking the established legal family to Smith's killing during the investigation into the two murders, but they have not provided any other details.

Stephen Smith
Stephen Smith with his mother Sandy Smith Twitter

The bombshell announcement comes just a day that Buster dismissed "vicious rumors" that he was responsible for Smith's death. Smith's family had raised $60,000 to have the teen's body exhumed.

Eric Bland, a co-founder of Bland Richter, claimed that SLED is dedicated to merging resources and efforts as the state proceeds with exhuming Smith's Body.

Twist in the Tale

Smith, an openly gay teen who had a romantic relationship with Buster Murdaugh, was found dead on a road three miles from his vehicle in July 2015. He was found with slashes to his left hand, a dislocated shoulder, and a significant laceration to the right side of his forehead.

Alex Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh listens as he is sentenced to life for the murders of his wife and younger son Twitter

When he was first found dead, police said it "appeared to be a homicide," but an autopsy conducted the same day determined he had been the victim of a hit-and-run.

"I really don't know why they did what they did," Smith's mother, Sandy, told News Nation on 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."

Smith's family has long held the belief that he was killed as his body allegedly had no injuries from the torso down and no car components were discovered at the location.

Murdaugh family
Alex Murdaugh (extreme right) with his family Facebook

SLED reopened its investigation into Smith's death in 2021 in light of fresh information learned while looking into the killings of Buster Murdaugh's mother Maggie and his brother Paul.

Yet, according to Bland, officials claimed they delayed making this news until after Murdaugh's murder trial because they were concerned about witness evidence.

Although Sandy hasn't connected the Murdaughs specifically to her son's murder, several online sleuths and true crime writers have linked the enigmatic killing to the powerful legal clan.

Buster Murdaugh "unequivocally" refuted "vicious rumors" that he was responsible for the Smiths' death on Monday.

There have been rumors that Buster and Smith secretly dated in high school despite Smith's family's homophobic history, according to a Netflix series on the double murders and other odd deaths connected to the family.

Buster was frequently seen walking dogs at the property during the trial and is currently said to be camped out at the Hilton Head home of his lawyer girlfriend.

Sandy said on a GoFundMe page on Thursday that they will be exhuming Smith's body and moving forward with an independent autopsy.