By LAUREN SILVER Court TV
HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (Court TV) — The body of Stephen Smith has been exhumed as part of an independently-funded autopsy and investigation into his death.
Attorney Eric Bland, who represents the Smith family, confirmed the news in a press release Monday.
Smith, a nursing student, was 19 when he was found dead along Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, South Carolina, in the early hours of July 8, 2015. Though his body was found in the middle of the road, investigators on the scene noted the only injuries to his body appeared to be to his head and shoulder.
RELATED: Hit-and-run to homicide: A timeline of the Stephen Smith investigation
The South Carolina Enforcement Division (SLED) announced on March 22 that it had reclassified Smith’s death, which was initially called a hit-and-run, to be a homicide. SLED had reopened its investigation citing evidence uncovered during the investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, but has declined to specify what evidence was found and what the connection between the two cases could be. Alex Murdaugh, a once-prominent attorney, was convicted of the murders of his wife and son.
Following Alex Murdaugh’s trial, Sandy Smith, Stephen’s mother, started a GoFundMe campaign with the intention of exhuming Stephen’s body and paying for a private autopsy and investigation. The GoFundMe, which initially had a goal of $15,000, raised more than $119,000.
In press release, Bland said $35,000 of the GoFundMe campaign is being offered as a reward “for information leading to the arrest of any responsible party in the death of Stephen Smith.”
Investigative documents obtained by Court TV indicate that detectives who investigated the case never believed that Smith was the victim of a hit-and-run, and initially believed he had been shot.
The same documents indicate that both a rape kit and gunshot residue tests were performed on Smith’s body, though the results of the rape kit were not included in the file. In an interview with Court TV, Smith family attorney Eric Bland confirmed the rape kit’s existence, and said that it remains in SLED’s possession.
Dr. Kenny Kinsey, a key witness in Alex Murdaugh’s trial, is leading the family’s independent investigation into Smith’s death.
Buster Murdaugh has repeatedly denied any involvement in the case and released a statement to that effect on March 20.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother. I love them so much and miss them terribly. I haven’t spoken up until now because I want to live in private while I cope with their deaths and my father’s incarceration.
Before, during and since my father’s trial, I have been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story. This has gone on far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false.
I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.
I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me.”
WATCH: Stephen Smith’s mother talks to Court TV
Sandy Smith has said she believes her son was beaten to death and left in the road to appear as if he was the victim of a hit-and run.