By KATIE McLAUGHLIN Court TV
HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (Court TV) — Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of murdering his wife and son. Now that the once-prominent attorney has been sentenced to life in prison, cases that had a connection to the Murdaugh name are getting another look.
One such case is the tragic death of Stephen Smith. He was found dead in the middle of the road in July 2015. Smith, 19, had sustained a head injury that was quickly classified as a hit-and-run, stating Smith had set off on foot because he’d run out of gas.
To get justice for her son and hold the people responsible accountable, Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, is raising money so she can have her son’s body exhumed and an independent autopsy conducted. She has since exceeded her $15,000 goal.
Sandy has a lot of support behind her, as members of the tight-knit community have had a hard time believing Stephen’s death was the result of a hit-and-run.
In an interview with Court TV’s Chanley Painter, Sandy said she believes her son was beaten to death, and that his body was positioned in the road to look like a hit and run.
“Somebody was there,” Sandy said. “It was more than one person that done this. And somebody knows.”
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced in June 2021 that it would reopen its investigation into Smith’s death. They made that decision based on information that came to light during the investigation into the June 7, 2021 shooting deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh — this was before Alex was charged in their murders.
Smith’s connection, if any, to the Murdaughs was not outlined by authorities at the time.
According to investigators, the condition of Smith’s body was not consistent with having been struck by a vehicle: his clothing was intact, his loose-fitting shoes were on his feet, and his cell phone was nestled in his pocket, undamaged.
Responding officers reported suspicions of foul play. The officers’ report also contained the name Buster Murdaugh.
Buster’s name was also being talked about around town. The rumor was, he and Smith had had a fling. Smith was openly gay.
Sandy eventually hired private investigator Steve Peterson. In exploring the case, Peterson heard Buster’s name come up during several interviews he conducted. In the Netflix docuseries “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal,” Peterson states that many of the people he interviewed said they’d heard Buster was involved with Smith’s death.
According to the docuseries, some schoolmates of Smith and Buster reported Smith was having car trouble and was comfortable enough with Buster to call him for help.
What happened next is unclear, but a friend of Smith’s named Olivia stated in the docuseries:
“I believe that he picked Stephen up and was fooling Stephen into thinking they were taking him home but I think they got a little ways down the road and that’s when it all started to unravel. I believe that the Murdaughs did whatever the hell it took to keep everyone’s mouth shut that night.”
Smith’s sister Stephanie recalled Alex Murdaugh’s brother Randy Murdaugh phoned the family the day Stephen died and said he wanted to take the case free of charge.
Peterson was frustrated because the case quickly began to fade, and although Buster’s name was mentioned several times on the highway patrol tapes, Buster was never interviewed by authorities.
Smith’s heartbroken family, meanwhile, implored the community for answers of any kind. Media reports stated a prominent, well-known family was involved, but they could not name the Murdaughs for fear of lawsuits.
The case remained cold from 2016 until shortly after Maggie and Paul were killed in 2021. Now that Sandy has raised enough money for exhumation, there’s hope that she might get the justice she’s been searching for all along.
On March 20, Court TV received a statement from Murdaugh family spokesperson Amanda Loveday on behalf of Buster Murdaugh:
“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.”
For more coverage on the Alex Murdaugh trial, visit: https://www.courttv.com/trending/alex-murdaugh-murder-mystery-trial/