By Michelle Watson, Paradise Afshar and Dakin Andone, CNN
the body of A 19-year-old boy is found dead in the middle of a South Carolina highway He will be exhumed in 2015, his family announced last week, nearly two years after state authorities reopened an investigation into his death based on information obtained while investigating the murders of Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh.
Stephen Smith’s family has raised about $60,000 for the exhumation and a private autopsy on what his mother described in a GoFundMe page as a “fight for justice”.
“I couldn’t have imagined when we started this fundraiser that it would take off the way it did,” wrote Sandy Smith. Thank you for not allowing Stephen’s story to be swept under the rug. We will proceed with the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way.”
Authorities have not announced a connection between Smith’s death and the Murdaugh family, whose patriarch, Alex Murdaugh, he was found guilty earlier this month of murdering his wife and son on their rural estate on the night of June 7, 2021. Murdaugh was he is sentenced to life imprisonment and has since appealed his conviction, according to his lawyer.
About two weeks after Maggie and Paul were killed, the The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, announced that it was reopening the investigation of Smith. due to information obtained from the Murdaugh case. SLED did not detail what that information was.
“SLED has made progress in the investigation into the death of Stephen Smith,” the agency said in a statement to CNN on Sunday, “however, this investigation remains active and ongoing.”
The body of the 19-year-old nursing student was discovered on July 8, 2015. A state highway patrol incident report stated that he suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was initially considered a hit and run.
However, although a pathologist quoted in a SLED report claims that Smith appeared to have been struck by a vehicle, the responding officer mentioned in a report by the state Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team noted that “there are no vehicle wreckage, skid marks or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle.”
Smith’s shoes were also on and loosely tied, the report added, and investigators saw no evidence to suggest he was struck by a vehicle.
Smith’s family started the GoFundMe in an effort to seek a “fresh, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts,” the page read, originally seeking $15,000. The autopsy would cost about $7,000, she says, and a private medical examiner would also have to be present throughout the process, at a rate of about $750 an hour.
“It’s a huge expense, but we hope that with your support we can make this happen and finally get the answers we need,” the page says, adding: “We think 2023 is Stephen’s year.”
CNN has reached out to Smith’s family for comment.
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.