State investigators release new details on Stephen Smith homicide case

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released new details Wednesday afternoon.
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 4:14 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 6:35 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released new details Wednesday afternoon, a day after attorneys for the family of a man killed in Hampton County said the case was now being considered a homicide.

The body of Stephen Smith was found on Sandy Run Road in Hampton County on July 8, 2015. The Hampton County Sheriff’s Office requested that SLED investigate the death.

SLED crime scene agents responded and processed the crime scene with the primary mission of providing quality manpower and technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and conducting investigations.

SLED’s Crime Scene Unit routinely responds to requests for assistance from local law enforcement and fellow state agencies to process crime scenes across South Carolina. The involvement of SLED’s Crime Scene Unit at a scene does not automatically indicate a SLED investigation, however.

On July 8, 2015, SLED crime scene agents attended Smith’s autopsy where medical examiner Dr. Erin Presnell concluded that he died from being struck by a motor vehicle.

Because of the medical examiner’s determination, the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office requested the South Carolina Highway Patrol to investigate Smith’s death, SLED spokesperson Renée Wunderlich said.

SLED was not requested by the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office or the South Carolina Highway Patrol to investigate the death in 2015.

That changed, however, on June 23, 2021. SLED opened an investigation into Smith’s death after SLED agents received information about his death and subsequently reviewed the SCHP investigative file.

“From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle,” Wunderlich said.

SLED’s investigation into Smith’s death was never closed; it remains a homicide investigation, she said, adding that progress has been made and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing.

“Since the beginning of SLED’s investigation, the goal has been to find out how Mr. Smith died and find the person(s) responsible for his death,” she said. “To that end, SLED Chief Mark Keel has assigned additional SLED Lowcountry regional agents to work this case in the hopes that those who may know what happened to Mr. Smith are more willing to speak freely now than they may have been in 2015 or 2021.”

SLED reopened the case in June 2021, shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh based on information discovered during that initial investigation.

But investigators have not said what information they found during the Murdaugh investigation that led them to take a second look at the Smith case.

No one has ever named any of the Murdaughs as suspects in connection with Smith’s death.

Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who represent Smith’s mother, Sandy, said Tuesday night that Keel had told them by telephone that the death was being considered a homicide.

“We have a chance to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do just that,” Bland said in a press release Tuesday night.

Earlier this week, the attorneys held a news conference in which they said they would petition the court to exhume Smith’s body for an independent autopsy and investigation.

A GoFundMe account set up to help pay the costs for the exhumation and investigation had an initial goal of raising $15,000. That goal has been surpassed several times over. As of Wednesday, the total raised was more than $90,000.

Anyone with information about Smith’s death is asked to call SLED at 803-737-9000 and ask for Investigative Services. Tips can also be submitted by email to