Mother raises $41K to exhume, autopsy remains of son found dead near Murdaugh estate in 2015
- For years, rumors circulated around the county that the death of Stephen Smith was connected to the Murdaugh family.
- With the spotlight dimming on Alex Murdaugh, the Smith family feels its time to shine some new light on their murder case.
- On March 10, Sandy Smith organized a GoFundMe page to help fund the exhumation and autopsy of Stephen Smith. In a week, the fund raised over $41k.
In the wake of the double murder conviction of Richard "Alex" Murdaugh, the family of a South Carolina teen found dead in 2015 is making a renewed drive to find the truth in the years-old "cold case." Funds have now been raised for an exhumation and independent autopsy, the teen's mother said.
As Murdaugh's trial consumed the world's media and the public's attention from Jan. 23 until its March 2 conclusion − when Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife and son − Sandy Smith has impatiently waited for a conclusion of her own. But she has been waiting for eight years.
The body of her son, Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student, was found lying in the middle of a rural road in Hampton County, not far from the Murdaugh property in Colleton County, on July 8, 2015. He died from blunt force trauma to the head, but there was controversy surrounding the case from the start.
At first, officials ruled the death a hit and run, but investigators later considered it a homicide based on evidence at the scene.
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For years, rumors circulated around the county that the case was connected to the Murdaugh family. That name appeared dozens of times in witness statements to police, yet the case grew cold and to this day there have been no arrests or even official confirmation that the case is, in fact, Murdaugh related or not.
The unsolved murder mystery received new life in July 2021, when the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened a new investigation into Smith's homicide, "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."
With the spotlight dimming on Alex Murdaugh, the Smith family feels its time to shine some new light on their murder case. A GoFundMe drive has been started to raise money for an exhumation and independent autopsy of Stephen Smith's remains.
Opinion: Why did Alex Murdaugh escape the death penalty? Perhaps it's because he's white and rich.
GoFundMe raises more than $41K in just over a week
On March 10, Sandy Smith organized a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the exhumation and independent autopsy.
The fundraising goal was $15,000 – but in only a week, that page states it has raised $41,034.
According to the GoFundMe page, if Smith's body is exhumed, the Smith family doesn't want the state to conduct an autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where such studies are normally held in the region.
"We feel it's critical to seek a new goal − an independent exhumation and autopsy," states the page. "While the state can elect and fund an exhumation and new autopsy, it is our understanding that it would be carried out at MUSC, where his death was initially classified as hit-and-run despite no evidence to support it."
"We need a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts. There was no debris in the road, and his injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run."
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The site also states that the autopsy alone is expected to cost $7,000. In addition, "a private medical examiner must be present from the start of the exhumation through the examination period at a cost of approximately $750 per hour."
Thanks to recent generous donors, this now appears possible.
"The family of Stephen N. Smith is incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have received from Standing for Stephen and the community as a whole. You have been monumental in shining light on Stephen's story and the lack of justice," states Smith's page.
"Thank you for not allowing Stephen's story to be swept under a rug. We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way."
#StandingForStephen gives way to #JusticeForStephen
When media reports of the Murdaugh cases began sweeping the nation, it sparked a movement for justice and support for LGBTQ teens like Smith called #StandingForStephen. That movement raised thousands and helped the Smith family erect a memorial on their son's grave.
#StandingForStephen has now been replaced with a fresh initiative, #JusticeForStephen.
This effort appears to have gotten underway during the height of the Murdaugh murder trial. In February, Smith began posting about it on her Facebook page, and revealed her plans to exhume her son's body for further investigation.
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Smith family issues statement after Alex Murdaugh verdict
In the days following the double murder conviction of Alex Murdaugh, the Smith family released the following statement: