Stephen Smith’s new autopsy linked to Murdaugh will be complex
Plans to exhume the body of a 19-year-old killed near the Murdaugh family’s South Carolina residence have given his mother hope that a new autopsy will solve his mysterious death.
Stephen Smith died in July 2015, but his mother Sandy long disputed the official cause of death, a hit and run, and claimed he was murdered.
The inquest into her death was revisited in 2021 following the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh – for which husband and father Alex was convicted on March 3.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said it began investigating the case “based on information gathered during the double murder investigation”, but gave no further details. details.
Sandy said she would “pursue the exhumation immediately” after raising $40,000 through a GoFundMe page to pay for an independent exhumation and autopsy.
“Although the State may choose and fund an exhumation and a new autopsy, we understand that it would be carried out at [the Medical University of South Carolina]where his death was initially classified as a hit and run despite no supporting evidence,” she wrote on the page at the time.
But the exhumation – which must first be given the green light by a judge – is just the start of a thorough process of re-examining how Smith’s body was treated during the initial investigation. more than seven years ago, said longtime forensic expert Joseph Scott. Morgan.
Stephen was found with a large wound on the right side of his forehead in the middle of the road, three miles from his car.
He also had a dislocated shoulder and cuts to his left hand, according to police reports.
Police initially said the death “appeared to be a homicide”, but an autopsy performed the same day he was found dead concluded he had been the victim of a hit-and-run.
How the body was handled in the crucial hours after its discovery makes all the difference, Morgan told the Post.
“There’s so much you can miss,” he said, when reached by phone. “That’s why we treat all deaths as homicides until proven otherwise, especially traumatic deaths.”
The fact that Smith’s body was sufficiently embalmed could also play a role, he said.
Morgan, who co-hosts a true crime podcast called “Body Bags,” also asked if investigators performed x-rays on Smith’s body prior to his burial, and the possibility of re-examining Smith’s clothing from the night of his death, and emphasized the importance of both.
“Did they take x-rays of his body? He asked. “If they did, maybe that’s something they could go back and revisit those movies that they did, versus what they have now. Maybe they will come in and discover something else that otherwise might not have been picked up.
Asked about the possible presence of foreign DNA, Morgan said any molecular evidence would be “gone” once funeral staff cleared Smith’s body.
The process of performing an autopsy examination on an exhumed body is further complicated by environmental factors, such as the possible presence of insects or water in the subterranean environment, Morgan continued.
“A lot of people think they’re just digging a hole and putting a coffin in there,” he said, speaking of a funeral. “That’s not how it goes.”
A coffin is then sealed in concrete, essentially making it “a box within a box,” Morgan added.
But “problems arise” if the water manages to penetrate, he added.
“That’s one of the things they’re going to fight – the elements versus that, we’re talking about seven years of rain and drought and all these different things that impact the area,” he said. -he declares.
The quality of the coffin can have an impact on the protection of the body.
“There are still insects that will get in there, they will damage the body,” he said. “So you can have things like mold.”
Nonetheless, Morgan added, investigators will still be able to thoroughly examine Smith’s remains.
“They’re going to have to do full-body x-rays and look at every — from head to toe — every element involved,” he said, “and look for any trauma that might be present, in the most minute sense. of this word.
The coroner’s initial report determined that Stephen suffered a head injury when he was struck by the rearview mirror of a tractor-trailer as the vehicle passed, the Associated Press reported.
Police reportedly believed he was driving up the road because his car had run out of gas at the time.
However, a spokesperson for SLED said in a statement to The Post that they had “made progress in the investigation into the death of Stephen Smith, but this investigation remains active and ongoing.”
Murdaugh was once considered a high-profile name in South Carolina politics before the murders of Maggie and Paul unraveled a tangled web of financial crimes and cover-up allegations dating back years.
Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to two life sentences for the murders of his wife and son.
The Murdaugh family have since been implicated in at least three other deaths in the community, including Smith’s.
According to local news site FITSnews, the Murdaugh family name was mentioned “more than 40 times during the investigation”, although no family member was ever formally interviewed by police.
The same site reported that local rumors circulated that Alex’s surviving son, Buster, was somehow involved in the death, but this was never included in the notes of the police.
Buster was never named by police as a suspect in the incident or charged with a crime.
Speaking to The Post on Friday, Morgan said investigators re-examining Smith’s remains should “collect whatever you possibly can collect before returning his mortal remains to the ground.”
“You’ve already taken the trouble to have the body exhumed,” he continued. “Why not put the press all over the field, do whatever you can do?”
With Olivia Land