“48 HOURS” EXCLUSIVELY REVEALS THE FINDINGS OF AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO A COLD CASE IN “STEPHEN SMITH – A DEATH IN MURDAUGH COUNTRY”
Because of odd crime scene, his mother never believed that it was a hit and run. Now a team of high-profile lawyers and forensic experts is helping her get answers.
Stephen Smith and forensic pathology break-down
Years before South Carolina legal scion Alex Murdaugh was convicted for the murders of his wife and son, there was another mystery in Murdaugh country – the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old gay man. After his body was found on a country road on July 8, 2015, the medical examiner ruled it a hit and run. For years, his mother Sandy Smith wanted a second opinion. Now, 48 HOURS reports on a new investigation into the case in 48 HOURS: “Stephen Smith – A Death in Murdaugh Country,” to be broadcast Saturday, Nov. 25 (10:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and streaming on Paramount+.
“All I want is peace in knowing what happened to my son,” Smith tells 48 HOURS contributor and CBS News national correspondent Nikki Battiste. “He’s my world and I’ll fight ’til the end.”
Hampton County Guardian editor Michael Dewitt, who reported on Stephen Smith’s death in 2015, says it is “interesting” and “tragic” “that the oldest story [in the Murdaugh orbit] … remains unsolved,” adding, “solving his murder … I think will be the end of ... this sweeping saga.”
Battiste talks with Thomas Moore, a retired South Carolina Highway Patrol lieutenant, who was the supervisor called to the scene where Smith’s body was found. He says he didn’t see any signs of a hit and run: “any type of debris, any kinda glass, car parts, anything that looks like it may be related to a vehicle.”
Moore also suspected the scene was “staged” and that Smith’s body had been placed there.
Early on, rumors that the Murdaughs were somehow involved in Smith’s death spread through town. The Murdaugh name comes up dozens of times in the case file. The investigation seemingly went nowhere, and no suspects were named in Smith’s death. In late 2016, the case went cold. It was reignited in June 2021 after the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh. During that investigation, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) announced it had uncovered a new lead in Smith’s death and would be taking over the case. But it has not said what that evidence is.
In March 2023, after Alex Murdaugh was found guilty in the murders of his wife and son, Sandy Smith gained a high-power legal team – Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who are representing her pro bono, and have pursued their own investigation.
“Our sole goal … was to rekindle the interest in Stephen’s death,” says Bland.
“We are aware of no evidence today that would suggest that any Murdaugh played any role in Stephen Smith’s death or played any role in trying to cover up the investigation into his death,” Richter tells Battiste. “Our primary function right now is to have a true independent set of eyes look at it and tell us, once and for all, what really happened to Stephen Smith,” he says.
Richter and Bland had Smith’s body exhumed, something Sandy Smith had wanted for years, and assembled a team of experts. In April 2023, Dr. Michelle Dupre, a former investigator and forensic pathologist who has performed more than 3,000 autopsies, oversaw the examination of Smith’s body. She says it confirms he died from a single blow to his forehead.
“It split his skull,” she tells Battiste.
And oddly for a hit and run, Dupre says there were no injuries to his body that would indicate he’d been hit head-on by a vehicle.
Bland and Richter also hired crime scene expert Dr. Kenny Kinsey, who recently retired as chief deputy of the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office and was a star prosecution witness in the Murdaugh murder trial. Both experts say they believe Smith died on the road where his body was found.
Kinsey tells Battiste that the evidence at the scene is clear, that “the quantity of blood, the direction of the flow in the road, and then the direction of all … the blood on his person … led me to … the only conclusion.”
DuPre and Kinsey share their dramatic conclusions in the 48 HOURS report.
“How confident are you that you know what happened to Stephen Smith that night?” Battiste asks.
“I’m as close to a degree of scientific certainty as I’ve ever felt,” Kinsey says.
Sandy Smith’s independent investigative team has turned over all its findings to SLED.
Kishon Springer Kishon.email@example.com
Richard Huff Huffr@cbsnews.com