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Family of Stephen Smith, who was found dead not far from Murdaugh home, raises money for exhumation and autopsy

The Trial of Alex Murdaugh
The Trial of Alex Murdaugh 41:26

The body of Stephen Smith, who died on a country road not far from the Murdaugh home, is to be exhumed, his family announced on Friday. 

On March 9, his mother, Sandy Smith, opened a GoFundMe page to raise money to exhume the body and perform an independent autopsy after questions were raised about his 2015 death during the investigation into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. A jury found former attorney Alex Murdaugh guilty March 2 of murdering his wife and son at their country estate in 2021. 

During the double murder investigation, state police said they found new evidence about Smith's death. The police reopened the case in June 2021 to investigate further how the 19-year-old was killed.

Smith was found dead in the early morning hours on a South Carolina road "from blunt force trauma on his head," "48 Hours" reported. His yellow Chevy was found about three miles away, with his wallet inside and the car's gas cap unscrewed. State police first said that Smith had car trouble, was walking for help, and got hit by a car, "48 Hours" reported. 

Audio on which state police were overheard showed that some officers disagreed that "nothing appears to be a vehicular accident," as one officer is heard saying, "48 Hours" reported. No headlights were broken, and Smith was still found with his shoes on — a rare outcome for victims of vehicular accidents, said Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.

"It certainly raises questions whether hit and run is the right conclusion," Stoughton, told "48 Hours."

Smith's family believes he was murdered. His mother wants an independent determination of his cause of death. In South Carolina, the next of kin can request a permit to exhume a body. 

"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," wrote Smith on the website dedicated to raising money for the effort.

Smith said that an independent autopsy costs about $7,000 and a medical examiner about $750 for an hour. Private autopsy firms online advertise costs for an exhumation autopsy ranging from $3,000 to $6,500. 

The fundraising page raised $44,140, almost three times its original goal of $15,000.

"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," his mother Sandy Smith wrote. 

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