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SLED Releases Statement On Stephen Smith Investigation

Agency provides update on murder probe “in the interest of accuracy, understanding and the continued mission of seeking justice …”

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Twenty-four hours after chief Mark Keel of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) confirmed that his agency was treating the death of Stephen Smith as a homicide – and devoting additional resources to solving the case – the agency released a statement regarding the high-profile murder investigation.

The body of Smith – a 19-year-old from Hampton, S.C. – was found in the middle of Sandy Run Road near Crocketville, S.C. in the early morning hours of July 8, 2015. 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 based on the findings of Erin Presnell, a forensic pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Smith’s case has attracted international attention after it was prominently featured in the hit Netflix documentary, ‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.’

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.

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

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SLED’s statement was an unusual move for the agency – which typically refuses to discuss ongoing investigations. It was disseminated “in the interest of accuracy, understanding and the continued mission of seeking justice for victims of crimes,” according to the release (.pdf).

The statement provided insight into the role SLED crime scene agents perform when they receive calls for service from local law enforcement agencies – which is happening with increasing frequency in the Palmetto State. SLED’s primary mission in such cases is to “provide quality manpower and technical assistance” to these local agencies.

To dispel rumors the Smith investigation was “re-opened,” the press release clarified that SLED agents frequently assist local law enforcement agencies in their investigations and that the involvement of its officers at a crime scene “does not automatically indicate a SLED investigation.”

SLED agents did attend Smith’s autopsy – at which Presnell controversially concluded Smith died from being struck by a motor vehicle. Following this determination, “the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office requested the South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) to investigate Mr. Smith’s death,” not SLED.

Neither Hampton County nor SCHP asked SLED to conduct an investigation into Smith’s death in 2015.

As previously reported, Presnell’s misclassification of Smith’s murder as a hit-and-run effectively shut down inquiries into other potential causes of death. Presnell reached her controversial conclusion despite the fact 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.”

SLED's statement affirmed the agency opened - not re-opened - its investigation into Smith's death on June 23, 2021. The investigation was opened after agents received information about Smith's death contained within the SCHP investigative file - in which state troopers made it clear they "did not believe the death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle."

This investigative file was published today by FITSNews as part of our ongoing coverage of this case.

SLED stated its investigation into Smith's murder is "active and ongoing," and "was never closed - it remains a homicide investigation."

Chief Keel has assigned additional SLED Lowcountry regional agents to work on Smith's case in the hopes "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."

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THE STATEMENT ...

(Via: SLED)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews' incomparable research director. She's also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she's married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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