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Stephen Smith’s family raises money to have body exhumed for private autopsy almost 2 years after Murdaugh case prompted renewed scrutiny

<i>Kacen Bayless/The Island Packet/AP</i><br/>Sandy Smith holds a photo of her late son
Kacen Bayless/The Island Packet/AP
Sandy Smith holds a photo of her late son

By Michelle Watson, Paradise Afshar and Dakin Andone, CNN

The family of a 19-year-old found dead in the middle of a South Carolina road in 2015 will seek to have his body exhumed, they announced last week, almost two years after state authorities reopened a probe into his death based on information learned while investigating the murders of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh.

The family of Stephen Smith has raised more than $60,000 to put towards the exhumation and a private autopsy in what his mother described on a GoFundMe page as a “fight for justice.” Attorneys for the family said they would petition a court to proceed with exhuming Smith’s body, which requires a judge’s permission.

“I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did,” Sandy Smith wrote. “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.”

Authorities have not announced a connection between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family, whose patriarch, Alex Murdaugh, was found guilty earlier this month of murdering his wife and son at their rural estate the night of June 7, 2021. Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison and has since appealed his conviction, according to his attorney.

About two weeks after Maggie and Paul were killed, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, announced it was reopening the Smith investigation due to information gleaned from the Murdaugh case. SLED did not detail what that information was.

“SLED has made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith,” the agency said in a statement to CNN Sunday, “however this investigation remains active and ongoing.”

The body of the 19-year-old nursing student was discovered on July 8, 2015. An incident report from the state highway patrol indicated he suffered blunt force trauma to the head, and his death was initially deemed a hit and run.

However, while a pathologist cited in a SLED report states Smith appeared to have been hit by a vehicle, the responding officer referenced in a report by the state highway patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team noted “no vehicle debris, skid marks, or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.”

Smith’s shoes were also both on and loosely tied, the report added, and investigators saw no evidence suggesting he was struck by a vehicle.

Smith’s family started the GoFundMe in an effort to seek a “new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts,” reads the page, which originally sought $15,000. The autopsy would cost about $7,000, it says, and a private medical examiner would also need to be present throughout the process — at a rate of about $750 per hour.

“It is a huge expense, but we are hoping that with your support we can make this happen and finally get the answers we need,” the page says, adding, “We believe 2023 is Stephen’s year.”

CNN has reached out to Smith’s family for comment.

This story has been updated to include details about what is required before Stephen Smith’s body can be exhumed.

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CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.

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