What can authorities learn by exhuming Stephen Smith?

  • Authorities plan to exhume the body of teen Stephen Smith who died in 2015
  • His death is rumored to be linked to Alex Murdaugh's surviving son, Buster
  • Pathologists may be limited in what new information they can learn

(NewsNation) — Authorities are planning to exhume the body of Stephen Smith, a teenager who died in South Carolina and who is rumored to have links to Buster Murdaugh.

Smith was found dead on the road not far from the Murdaugh estate and his death was ruled a hit-and-run, but his mother has said she believes the case wasn’t investigated properly. Smith was rumored to have romantic ties with Murdaugh, who has denied those allegations.

Since his father, Alex Murdaugh’s, conviction for the murder of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh has spoken out against the media scrutiny he’s faced.

Pathologist Dr. Priya Banerjee joined NewsNation to discuss what might be learned from a body that’s been buried for eight years. Exhumation isn’t something taken lightly.

“There has to be really good reason for someone to be exhumed we’re unearthing someone who’s been laid to rest,” she said.

Trial attorney Brian Claypool told NewsNation one piece of critical information could be gained.

“So one thing that you might be able to glean from exhuming Steven Smith’s body is the cause of his death, right?” he said. “Because it was reported that it was through a hit and run car accident. If that happened, one would expect, for example, bruising in the legs, or the ankles, or even the torso if a car hits you, and possibly broken bones, not just a head injury.”

What investigators will be able to learn will depend on how preserved Smith’s body is, which can be affected by the swampy environment of South Carolina’s low country as well as how tightly the casket was sealed.

“But nonetheless, bones are still there. You can look for fractures, some injuries, and really that interpretation is going to impact putting the puzzle back together,” Banerjee said.

She added that questions about the handling of the original investigation went beyond the medical examiner’s findings, including things like the way police conducted interviews. But a pathologist would focus solely on the body.

“My focus would be to make sure that due diligence is done after going through such an extensive process, if he is unearthed, to give him a full examination, document the condition of his body, do X-rays, do any other technology that we have,” Banerjee said.

Even if the exhumation reveals a cause of death, that doesn’t mean there’s any evidence to tie Buster or any other Murdaugh to the case.

“I think the only way you’re gonna be able to do that is if, if, for example, there’s some DNA of Steven Smith, on some type of object, a hammer a piece of wood, something at the Murdock home that was found during the investigation of murder his wife and son,” Claypool said.


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