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Buster Murdaugh releases statement on death of Stephen Smith as family searches for answers

The verdict against Alex Murdaugh
The verdict against Alex Murdaugh 05:02

The family of Stephen Smith, who died on a road near the home of the disgraced Murdaugh family, wants to exhume his body to aid in the investigation of the cold case. Now, Buster Murdaugh, the son of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh, is speaking out about the Smith case.

"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," Murdaugh said in a statement about Smith, one of his high school classmates. "I love them so much and miss them terribly."

Murdaugh testified on behalf of his father, Alex Murdaugh, who was convicted earlier this month of killing his wife, Maggie, and younger son, Paul, in 2021. Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison and is appealing his murder conviction.

The case gained national attention and was featured in the "48 Hours" episode "The Murdaugh Mysteries" in 2021. Smith was found dead on a road near the family's home in 2015, lying in the middle of the street with "blunt force trauma on his head," "48 Hours" reported. 

Stephen Smith, whose mysterious death close to the Murdaugh home raised questions, is to be exhumed. CBS News

A Netflix documentary, released in conjunction with the trial, revived attention to several other mysterious deaths in the small town, including that of Smith. According to the Netflix documentary, rumors swirled in the town that Buster Murdaugh and his younger brother were potentially involved in Smith's death, but no charges were brought against anyone in the family, and no suspects were named. 

Buster Murdaugh said in his statement that before, during and after his father's trial, he has "been targeted and harassed by the media and followers of this story."

"This has gone on far too long," he said. "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."

The investigation into Smith's death was reopened in 2021 while police were investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul. While state police originally said that Smith got hit by a car while walking to get help after having car trouble, his family believes he was murdered. 

Smith's family is able to request a permit to exhume his body in order to get an independent autopsy. They started a GoFundMe earlier this month to raise money for the process, which can cost up to $7,000, according to Smith's mother, Sandy Smith, who started the fundraiser. They did not name the Murdaughs in the description of their fundraiser. 

"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," Sandy Smith wrote on the GoFundMe page. The fundraiser has pulled in more than $65,000 – far surpassing its goal of $15,000. 

During a news conference Monday, attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter announced they are representing the Smith family. "We're going to hire experts who are going to come into this case with a fresh set of eyes, with an open mind, without any preconceived conclusions, being objective and wherever the facts go. That's where the investigation will go," Bland said.

He added that they will request to have the body exhumed if they find evidence that Smith did not die from a hit-and-run in the middle of the road, but somewhere else. He said pre- and post-death communications between "different people could yield some information."

The renewed investigation is "not an Alex Murdaugh 2.0 or any Murdaugh 2.0," he said. "This is a Stephen Smith 2.0. It's all about Steven." 

"Our job is not to find out who did it, that's not what we do. We're not law enforcement, this is not a criminal case," the lawyer said, adding that they're just trying to help Smith's grieving mother find answers about her son's death. 

Alex Murdaugh was a prominent lawyer in South Carolina and comes from a long line of lawyers and district attorneys – known as solicitors in that state. The deaths of Maggie, Paul and Smith are not the only incidents that have tarnished the family's reputation.

In 2018, the family's longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, died on their property after allegedly falling down stairs. In 2019, a teenage girl, Mallory Beach, died in an accident with the family's boat, which Paul was allegedly driving while drunk. 

The housekeeper's family claims they never saw the death settlement Murdaugh promised them, and he is being sued for insurance fraud.

Three months after shooting Maggie and Paul, Alex Murdaugh was found in his car with a nonfatal gunshot wound to his head. He said at the time that the murders of his family members, which he had yet to be convicted of, "caused an incredibly difficult time" in his life and that he planned to resign from his law firm, according to CBS affiliate WCSC-TV. He also entered rehab for drug abuse. He was disbarred in 2022.

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