(NewsNation) — Family members of a South Carolina teenager who died more than seven years ago are still looking for answers in his death, and they may come by way of a renewed investigation with links to a disbarred attorney set to go on trial for killing his wife and son.
Stephen Smith was found dead in the middle of a road in 2015 in Hampton County, South Carolina. Police in their initial investigation determined Smith died while walking to a nearby gas station after his car ran out of gas.
But his wallet was left in the car, and the gas station was in a different direction from where he was headed. The death was ruled a hit-and-run, but many were suspicious of that ruling and the circumstances surrounding Smith’s death.
That speculation might have some credence.
State police reopened the investigation into Smith’s death in 2021 following the killing of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, the wife and son of prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is now charged in the double homicide. The State Law Enforcement Division said it had made discoveries during its investigation of the Murdaugh killings that warranted looking again at Smith’s death.
There have been no arrests or charges in the year and a half since the investigation into Smith’s death was reopened, but SLED said it is “making progress,” WCSC-TV reported.
A family friend of the Smiths, Susanne Andrews, founded an organization, Standing for Stephen, to help the family and last year raised more than $25,000 during a fundraiser for a headstone, the Greenville News reported at the time.
Andrews said Thursday on NewsNation’s “CUOMO” she’s not confident the SLED investigation will shed new light on Smith’s death.
“There’s just a lot involved, a lot of politics and a lot of cover-up,” Andrews said. “We hope for the best but brace for the worst.”
Smith’s body was found in the early morning hours on July 8, 2015, with blunt force wounds to his head, as well as injuries on his left arm and hand, WCSC reported. The family has questioned the hit-and-run determination from the beginning, and Andrews said to her knowledge, the Murdaugh name was “brought up over 40 times” during Smith’s investigation.
“It’s a sad case, and it’s control and power in the Lowcountry and across the state,” Andrews said. “Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
The Murdaugh name has been a prominent one in South Carolina’s Lowcountry for the better part of the last century, as outlined in a timeline by the Post and Courier newspaper. Multiple generations have controlled the local prosecutor’s office, and the family practice built a reputation as “personal injury powerhouse.”
But Smith’s death was the first in a series of deaths surrounding the family that would ultimately result in a downward spiral.
In 2018, a housekeeper died in a trip-and-fall accident inside the Murdaugh home, and a year later, a young woman died in a boating accident involving Paul Murdaugh. He was later indicted on charges he was driving the boat while drunk.
Two years later, in June 2021, Paul and his mother Maggie were found shot to death on their 1,700-acre estate roughly 70 miles of Charleston. Alex Murdaugh was indicted in July 2022 for the killings and is set to stand trial Monday.
Andrews was able to raise the money needed to get a headstone for the Smith family, and now she’s putting her efforts into getting hate-crime legislation passed in South Carolina, one of two states that has no such laws. Smith was gay, and the family believes that may have played a role in his death.
“This is kind of part two with the foundation to get something to honor him in his name,” Andrews said. “He deserves some credit, and his family deserves some answers.”