(CNN) A South Carolina law enforcement agency is investigating the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student whose body was found in the middle of a South Carolina road in 2015, as a homicide, an agency spokeswoman told CNN.
A SLED spokeswoman confirmed at the inquest that there were no signs that Smith’s death was the result of an assault — an initial incident report ruled a fatality.
Smith’s body was found on July 8, 2015 in Hampton County.
In June 2021, SLED announced it was opening an investigation into Smith’s death based on information obtained while investigating Smith’s murders. Margaret “Maggie” Murdock and her son Paul Murdock Earlier that month. No details were given on what was found.
Authorities have not announced a connection between Smith’s death and the Murdock family, whose patriarch is Alex Murdock He was convicted earlier this month and sentenced to life in prison For killing Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7, 2021. Murdock He appealed his convictions.
During interviews in the case file from the initial South Carolina Highway Patrol investigation — released by the patrol to CNN — Murdock’s name was mentioned dozens of times by witnesses and investigators, including Alex Murdock’s surviving son Buster.
During an audio interview with a witness, then-Trooper Todd Proctor says, “Buster was on our radar. … The Murdas knew that.” But why he was on their radar is unclear. Neither he nor anyone else has been charged in this case.
Buster Murdock, a former classmate of Smith’s, issued a statement Monday — his first on the matter — denying any involvement in Smith’s death and asking “the media to immediately stop publishing these slanderous comments and rumors about me.”
“It’s been too long,” his statement said. “These baseless rumors about my association with Stephen and his death are false.”
What the initial report said
An incident report from the State Highway Patrol indicated that Smith suffered a blunt force trauma to the head.
Although a pathologist cited in a SLED report said Smith appeared to have been hit by a vehicle, the responding officer noted in a Highway Patrol Multidisciplinary Crash Investigation Team report that there was “no vehicle debris, skids or similar injuries.” A vehicle hit.”
Smith’s shoes were also worn and loosely tied, the report added, and investigators found no evidence that he had been hit by a vehicle.
Investigators’ notes in the case file state that “according to the family, Stephen would never walk in the middle of nowhere” and that he was “extremely bored.”
According to notes taken by a SLED investigator at the scene, Smith had injuries to his left arm, hand and head.
His vehicle was found about three miles away, the report said, with the gas tank door open and the gas cap hanging off the side of the car. The vehicle’s battery was functional, but the car would not start, the report added.
A mother looking for answers
In a news release Tuesday, attorneys for Smith’s family praised the decision to classify Smith’s death as a homicide.
“We have an opportunity to right eight years of wrongs, and we intend to do so,” attorney Eric Plant said in the release.
Smith’s family has raised more than $84,000 through a GoFundMe page That is an excavation and a private autopsy Smith’s mother says she will search “A new, unbiased view of his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on the facts.”
Smith’s mother and his lawyers He said he will file a petition A court would need a judge’s permission to exhume Smith’s body.
“It’s not our job to find out who did it,” Plant told reporters at a virtual news conference Monday. “That’s not what we do, we’re not law enforcement, we’re not doing a criminal case … What we’re really trying to do is give a mother an answer.”
The investigation will also include looking at Smith’s life, Plant added, and what kind of relationship the teenager had and who he was in contact with in the days leading up to his death. Anything learned will be shared with law enforcement, Plant said.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher contributed to this report.