Stephen Smith's mother raises $41K in a week to exhume, autopsy son after Murdaugh trial

In the wake of the double murder conviction of Richard "Alex" Murdaugh, another local family still waiting for answers and justice in the unsolved homicide of their loved one is making a renewed drive to find the truth and a resolution to a years-old "cold case" that isn't cold in their hearts.

As Murdaugh's trial consumed the world's media and the public's attention from Jan. 23 until its March 2 conclusion − Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife and son, earned him two consecutive life sentences − Sandy Smith has impatiently waited for a conclusion of her own. But she has been waiting for eight years.

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

The body of her son, Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old nursing student and Wade Hampton High School graduate, was found lying in the middle of rural Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, like a discarded piece of roadside litter, on July 8, 2015. He died from blunt force trauma to the head, but there was controversy surrounding the case from the start.

At first, officials ruled the death a hit and run, but investigators later considered it a homicide based on evidence at the scene.

For years, rumors circulated around the county that the case was connected to the Murdaugh family, and that name appeared dozens of times in witness statements to police, yet the case grew cold and to this day there have been no arrests or even official confirmation that the case is, in fact, Murdaugh related, or not.

A roadside cross marks the spot on Sandy Run Road where Stephen Smith was found dead in 2015.
A roadside cross marks the spot on Sandy Run Road where Stephen Smith was found dead in 2015.

But an eight-year unsolved murder mystery received new life − and Smith's family new hope − in July 2021, when the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened a new investigation into Smith's homicide, stating "SLED has opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."

With the spotlight dimming on Alex Murdaugh, the Smith family feels its time to shine some new light on their murder case and a GoFundMe drive has been started to raise money for an exhumation and independent autopsy of Stephen Smith's remains.

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GoFundMe in honor of Stephen Smith raises more than $41K in just over a week

While the world knows intricate details of other deaths and criminal charges surrounding the Murdaugh name, the Smith homicide − whether or not it is, in fact, connected to the Murdaugh family or not − remains the biggest unsolved mystery and a frustrating case for family and law enforcement alike.

On March 10, Sandy Smith organized a GoFundMe fundraiser page titled "Independent Exhumation and Autopsy."

The fundraising goal was $15,000, but in only a week, that page states it has raised $41,034. On March 16 alone, one anonymous donor gave $1,500.

According to the GoFundMe page, if Smith's body is exhumed, the Smith family doesn't want the state to conduct an autopsy at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where such studies are normally held in this part of the S.C. Lowcountry.

"We feel it's critical to seek a new goal − an independent exhumation and autopsy − and we're launching Justice for Stephen N. Smith with that immediate goal in mind," states the page. "While the state can elect and fund an exhumation and new autopsy, it is our understanding that it would be carried out at MUSC, where his death was initially classified as hit-and-run despite no evidence to support it.

"We need a new, unbiased look at his body and an accurate determination of his cause of death based on facts. There was no debris in the road, and his injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run."

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

The site also states that the autopsy alone is expected to cost $7,000. In addition, "a private medical examiner must be present from the start of the exhumation through the examination period at a cost of approximately $750 per hour," but thanks to recent generous donors, this now appears possible.

"The family of Stephen N. Smith is incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love and support we have received from Standing for Stephen and the community as a whole. You have been monumental in shining light on Stephen's story and the lack of justice," states Smith's page.

"Our family is so very grateful to all of you who came together to help us in our fight for justice for Stephen. I could not have imagined when we began this fundraiser that it would take off the way that it did. Thank you for not allowing Stephen's story to be swept under a rug. We will pursue the exhumation immediately and provide updates along the way. Thank you for the kind words, prayers and donations. You have made this possible, and it means the world to us. This is Stephen's year."

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#StandingForStephen gives way to #JusticeForStephen

When media reports of the Murdaugh cases began sweeping the nation, it sparked a movement for justice and support for LGBTQ teens like Smith called #StandingForStephen. That movement raised thousands and helped the Smith family erect a memorial on their son's grave.

That movement has now been replaced with a fresh initiative, #JusticeForStephen.

This effort appears to have gotten underway during the height of the Murdaugh murder trial in Walterboro, S.C. In February, Smith began posting about it on her Facebook page, and revealed her plans to exhume her son's body for further investigation.

"There will be no more #standingforstephen ! It will now be called justice for Stephen!" wrote Smith on Facebook.

Rachel Tuten, a friend of the late Stephen Smith, reacts emotionally during Sunday's memorial unveiling.
Rachel Tuten, a friend of the late Stephen Smith, reacts emotionally during Sunday's memorial unveiling.

Smith family issues statement after Alex Murdaugh verdict

In the days following the double murder conviction of Alex Murdaugh, the Smith family released the following statement:

Stephen Smith Reaction by USA TODAY Network on Scribd

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Stephen Smith's mother raises funds to exhume, autopsy son