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Crime & Courts

Stephen Smith Case Files: The First Autopsy

“Pending further investigation, the manner of death is best left undetermined.”

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As I noted earlier this week, my news outlet is releasing documents and other materials in connection with our ongoing investigation into the July 8, 2015 murder of Stephen Smith of Hampton, South Carolina.

Smith’s murder is back on the radar in a big way after it was featured prominently in the hit Netflix documentary, ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’

Is there a Murdaugh connection to Smith’s murder? Smith’s family certainly believes so … although Buster Murdaugh, who was friends with Smith in high school, issued his own statement on the situation earlier this week.

To recap: Smith’s body was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015 – where it was discovered by a passing motorist (a tow truck driver) at approximately 4:00 a.m. EDT.

Initially classified as a vehicular hit-and-run, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) opened a homicide investigation into Smith’s death shortly after the savage slayings of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh on June 7, 2021 at Moselle – the Murdaugh family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.

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Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh was convicted of those killings and sentenced to life in prison earlier this month.

The misclassification of Smith’s death as a hit-and-run was based on an autopsy performed by Erin Presnell, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). This news outlet has written about this autopsy on dozens of occasions over the past few years – detailing the controversy that raged at the time between crime scene investigators and Presnell over the manner of Smith’s death.

Earlier this week, Smith’s mother – Sandy Smith of Barnwell, S.C. – joined attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter in announcing they would be submitting a formal request to exhume Smith’s body for the purposes of conducting an independent review of Presnell’s autopsy. This news outlet supports Bland and Richter in their efforts – having penned a column over a year ago on this very subject.

As Bland and Richter prepare their petition, I felt it worthwhile to publish the original autopsy file as part of this news outlet’s ongoing effort to provide important materials to the public related to this case.

Why? Because I believe it is vitally important for people to see this information for themselves … and reach decisions based on facts, not people pushing one agenda or another.

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STEPHEN SMITH CASE FILES

FILE 1: SANDY SMITH’S LETTER IMPLICATING BUSTER MURDAUGH
FILE 2: THE FIRST AUTOPSY
FILE 3: THE HIGHWAY PATROL REPORT

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According to Presnell, Smith’s cause of death was “blunt head trauma due to (a) motor vehicle crash, pedestrian vs. vehicle.” Despite this reference, the manner of Smith’s death is listed as “undetermined” – a mystery which has lingered for the past seven-and-a-half years.

Presnell conducted the autopsy of Smith’s body at 12:30 p.m. EDT on July 8, 2015 – approximately eight-and-a-half hours after he died. In fact, at the time of the examination his body was still “warm to the touch.”

Presnell diagnosed “brainstem rent (stretch) with associated parenchymal hemorrhages,” or a stretching of the brain stem accompanied by multiple instances of bleeding within the brain. She also observed a “cerebral contusion” of the right temporal lobe along with “extensive skull fractures.”

Smith’s right shoulder was dislocated and he had sustained “irregular abrasions and contusions” on both the right and left arms.

On the right side of his forehead was a significant laceration – 7.25 inches in length – which extended “across the superior mid-to-right lateral forehead, involving the right eyebrow.”

There was also “blood and froth” in Smith’s airways.

During the autopsy, deputy Colleton County coroner Kelly Green was given the khaki shorts, black sneakers and black Nike T-shirt Smith was wearing at the time of his death – as well as fingernail clippings, dried blood, pulled scalp hair and multiple swabs from various parts of Smith’s body. After the autopsy, Green received a compact disc containing all of the digital images.

“In light of historical information and the autopsy findings, it is the opinion of the pathologist that the decedent died as the result of blunt head trauma sustained in a motor vehicle crash in which the decedent was a pedestrian struck by a vehicle,” Presnell concluded in her report.

Although she added “pending further investigation, the manner of death is best left undetermined.”

Presnell's assessment of a hit-and-run has been controversial from the very beginning considering there was zero evidence of a vehicular strike on the roadway where Smith’s body was found.

“I saw no vehicle debris, skid marks or injuries consistent with someone being struck by a vehicle,” SCHP trooper D.B. Rowell wrote in his report describing the crime scene. “We see no evidence to suggest the victim was struck by a vehicle.”

Another SCHP investigator who walked the scene found “no evidence of car parts or pieces” on the scene, and noted the location of Smith’s body in the middle of the roadway was inconsistent with a vehicular strike.

SCHP troopers and investigators weren’t the only ones who didn’t buy the “official story.” Following the autopsy, Hampton county coroner Ernie Washington told SCHP investigator Todd Proctor he “(did) not agree with the pathologist stating that the victim was struck by a motor vehicle.”

SCHP investigators questioned Presnell about her conclusion – but got nowhere. On July 22, 2015 – twelve days after Smith’s death – Proctor tried to speak to Presnell about why she settled on the “hit-and-run” explanation, but was rudely rebuffed.

After attempting to stonewall the SCHP investigator, Presnell allegedly “called (him) a liar.”

Pressed as to what led her to conclude Smith had been killed by a vehicle strike, Presnell responded “because he was found in the road,” according to Proctor's case notes.

“She had no evidence other than that for the statement being put in the report,” Proctor wrote in his case notes.

The kicker? Presnell dismissed Procter from her office by telling him it was “(his) job to figure out what struck (Smith), not hers.”

(Via: S.C. Highway Patrol)

A month later, on August 18, 2015, Proctor noted he was “unaware” of any alleged “historical information” which may have been relied upon by Presnell in memorializing the hit-and-run theory.

Proctor’s case notes from that day included yet another shocking statement ...

“The coroner stated that he had made contact with the pathologist, Dr. Presnell, and she stated that she would be willing to change her report to read however he wanted it,” Proctor’s notes read.

And people wonder why South Carolina is so messed up ...

Stay tuned: In addition to publishing more documents related to the Smith case this week, we plan on providing another update on the status of the ongoing investigation into who may have been responsible for it.

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THE FIRST AUTOPSY ...

(Via: Medical University of South Carolina)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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4 comments

Anonymous March 22, 2023 at 11:08 am

His body was warm to the touch after 8 hoursof death? Doesn’t seem correct to me…..

Reply
Anonymous April 5, 2023 at 5:41 am

Well you can not trust her autopsy as his name is not even spelled right on the report. She had absolutely no interest in giving the true story!

Reply
Anonymous March 29, 2023 at 12:16 am

Who paid her? Who talked to her? The cops obviously felt she was bullshitting – s who had the power to overrule them? The body would not be in that position f it was struck, shoes would have flown off as they were loose. And within a few hours Randy Murdaugh offers to work free for a case? How did he even know there WOULD be a case that quick? There was no need to lawyer up within hours for the Smith family. That alone says something doesnt smell right. Randy KNEW there would be a case – and he would be the one to steer it. How could there be this many incompetents and corrupted in that town??

Reply
Caroline April 10, 2023 at 11:13 pm

Shouldn’t there be injury to the legs if he was struck by a car, even if it was only the mirror and higher surely there would be scraps from hitting the road on them especially since he was wearing shorts.

Reply

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