SLED declares Stephen Smith's 2015 death a murder. Mother Sandy Smith 'in shock, elated'

·4 min read

Sandy Smith, the mother of Stephen Smith, whose unsolved death has haunted her for eight years, had a short but excited message when she learned that state police are now moving forward with his case as an official murder investigation.

"I've been waiting on this news for almost 8 years!" Smith emailed to The Hampton County Guardian Tuesday night. "I'm in shock, I'm elated, I'm waiting for the next chapter!"

Smith's reaction came minutes after her new legal representatives in the case involving her deceased son, Bland Richter LLP, disclosed the results of a phone call with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel.

Keel told the family's attorneys that the death of Stephen Smith is now officially being considered a murder, "a shocking announcement after eight years of being proclaimed a highway vehicular manslaughter," said Bland Richter in a statement Tuesday night.

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The late Stephen Smith, right, with his mother Sandy.
The late Stephen Smith, right, with his mother Sandy.

According to the statement, Bland Richter co-founder Eric Bland and Chief Keel, "have both committed to combining efforts, sharing information and resources as the state moves forward with exhuming Stephen Smith’s body and its subsequent investigations."

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

Smith was found dead on rural Sandy Run Road in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015, in a case that was controversially ruled a hit-and-run after a confused − and the family says shoddy − initial investigation.

The case went cold until a 2019 boat crash involving the controversial Murdaugh family of Hampton County again brought it into the public spotlight. Even more questions were raised about his death two years later. SLED reopened Smith’s case in June 2021 "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh," stated a SLED spokesperson at the time.

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Dick Harpootlian and Eric Bland talk in Alex Murdaugh’s trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday, February 9, 2023. Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Pool
Dick Harpootlian and Eric Bland talk in Alex Murdaugh’s trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Thursday, February 9, 2023. Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Pool

SLED, Bland Richter working together on leads

SLED officials have also welcomed a partnership with Bland Richter in this investigation, say the Smith attorneys: "They believe that working together will help to bring new leads and information to light and will ultimately lead to a resolution in this case."

Convinced that her son's death was clearly a homicide, once the Alex Murdaugh murder case ended, Smith’s mother opened a GoFundMe page in March to raise money for an exhumation and independent autopsy of her son's remains.

"Smith’s family believes he was murdered, and wants an unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts," stated Bland Richter. As of Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe has raised over $80,000.

Sandy Smith smiles behind the new memorial for her son, Stephen Smith.
Sandy Smith smiles behind the new memorial for her son, Stephen Smith.

“SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide," said Bland and his partner Ronnie Richter in a joint statement. "However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence. We are committed to finding out what really happened, and getting the peace and justice the Smith family deserves."

SLED has also revealed on the phone call that "they were waiting until the Murdaugh trial was over before making this announcement out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence," added Bland.

Since the conclusion of the Murdaugh trial, more resources have been devoted and will be devoted to Stephen Smith’s case, SLED reportedly said, and investigators now believe the people in Hampton County who know what happened to Smith may come forward.

“SLED is publicly supporting us, Sandy Smith, and her efforts to find out what really happened to her son," said Richter. "They have expressed their condolences to the Smith family and will continue to work diligently to bring those responsible for Stephen’s death to justice.  We are proud to be their partner in finding justice.”

The Bland Richter law firm has a long history of successfully representing clients in high-profile cases, including multiple victims in the Alex Murdaugh saga, which has captured the nation.

The investigation into the death of Stephen Smith is ongoing, and SLED officials are urging anyone with information about the case to come forward. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact SLED’s tip line at 1-800-CALL-SLED.

With tips around the Stephen Smith case please contact:

Renée WunderlichDirector of Public InformationSouth Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)

To reach Bland Richter contact:

Whitney McDuffPublic Relations Director, Bland RichterWhitney@WhitneyMcDuff.com803-608-2386

Michael DeWitt is the editor of the Hampton County Guardian and has been covering the Murdaugh crime saga from its beginning for the Greenville News and the USA Today Network.

Support Michael's work with a digital subscription to the Hampton County Guardian, Greenville News, Spartanburg Herald-Journal or Anderson Independent Mail.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: SLED officially declares Stephen Smith's death a homicide; mother