The Stephen Smith murder squad is getting an influx of agents in hopes that people will be “more willing to speak freely” now that once-powerful legal scion Alex Murdaugh is behind bars.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) made the announcement Wednesday while distancing itself from the initial decision to rule the 19-year-old nursing student’s 2015 death a hit-and-run.
SLED only opened its own investigation six years later, when agents “received information” while investigating Alex Murdaugh’s cold-blooded murder of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son Paul.
“SLED’s investigation into the death of Mr. Smith was never closed — it remains a homicide investigation,” the agency noted, suggesting it has always been classified as such since June 2021, weeks after the shocking double murders.
“Progress has been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing,” the agency said.
The update came two days after Murdaugh’s only surviving son, Buster, 26, unexpectedly released a statement “unequivocally” denying any ties to the death of his former classmate and rumored one-time lover.
SLED did not mention the Murdaughs in its update, only saying that its “goal has been to find out how Mr. Smith died and find the person(s) responsible for his death.”
“To that end, SLED Chief Mark Keel has assigned additional … agents to work this case in the hopes that those who may know what happened to Mr. Smith are more willing to speak freely now than they may have been in 2015 or 2021,” the force said.
Lawyers for the dead teen’s mom, Sandy Smith, confirmed that it was specifically referring to pill-popping double-murderer Murdaugh, 54, who is now serving two life sentences behind bars.
SLED told them 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,” the law firm, Bland Richter, said in a statement.
The law firm was also told that the extra resources followed “the conclusion of the Murdaugh trial.”
SLED said it could not say how many extra agents are being added, and by when.
Mom Sandy Smith said the news is finally bringing her “some peace” nearly eight years after losing her son in what she believes is a hate crime because he was gay.
“This is what I’ve been fighting for, and I’m finally getting it,” Sandy Smith told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday as she plans to exhume her son’s remains.
The mom had suggested Buster Murdaugh as a possible suspect in a letter to the FBI in 2016. She also said on of Alex Murdaugh’s brothers called her about her son’s death even before it was confirmed by cops.
The Murdaughs were named repeatedly in old case files, with one trooper telling a witness that “Buster was on our radar … The Murdaughs know that.”
While ramping up its current investigation, SLED was at pains to distance itself from the initial probe into Smith’s death close to the Moselle estate where Maggie and Paul Murdaugh would later be gunned down.
While its Crime Scene Unit helped process the death scene, it was not asked to investigate after “medical examiner Dr. Erin Presnell concluded Mr. Smith died from being struck by a motor vehicle,” the agency said.
When SLED did get involved, case notes from the earlier probe showed that South Carolina Highway Patrol officers “did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit-and-run by a motor vehicle,” SLED stressed.
Even before the latest revelations, Buster Murdaugh released a statement knocking the “vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death.”
“This has gone on far too long,” said Buster, seemingly also denouncing family friends who told a Netflix doc he’d been intimate with Smith.
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false,” he said. “I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.”
His father is appealing his double-murder convictions while facing trial for nearly 100 other crimes that emerged later.