Crime & Courts

FITSFiles Season One Finale: One Step Closer To The Truth

Attorney Tucker Player explains his next steps in the investigation of the murder of Daniel Reed Smith.

As we close out the first season of FITSFiles – our new true crime and corruption podcast – we take a look at what’s next for the family of Daniel Reed “DJ” Smith of Dorchester County, South Carolina.

Smith’s body was discovered on a remote stretch of railroad tracks near Ridgeville, S.C. on August 11, 2018. Despite initial statements from the local coroner’s office indicating he was murdered and placed at that location, investigators never arrived at that conclusion. Instead, they seemed more inclined to blame the victim for the horrific end he met.

During the months our team spent reviewing this voluminous case file – along with files shared by DJ’s stepfather – we asked a number of questions investigators appear to have overlooked. In addition to reviewing conflicting statements provided by the people who were with DJ on the night he died, we located key evidence provided by the railroad company – Norfolk Southern – that was both incomplete and misleading.

In late September, we revealed the findings of an independent, expert analysis of DJ’s autopsy which confirmed the family’s suspicions that foul play was involved in his death. While this report provided answers to some questions, it left us contemplating the existence of multiple crime scenes as we searched for more information. At that point, we realized that to truly understand what happened to DJ we needed to go to the exact spot on the train tracks where his body was found.

As our news team visited this remote, desolate location, one thing became immediately and abundantly clear – this was not some random spot. Whoever left DJ at this location planned to do so.

That realization raised a host of other questions:

Why choose this place to leave his body?

How was his body moved to this location?

Where was it moved from?

And the most important question of all, what happened to DJ prior to his body being moved?

Our team was joined on the tracks by DJ’s parents, Lesia and Eric Melendez, as well as Columbia-based attorney Tucker Player – who has been retained by Smith’s family. Player spoke with us in detail about his involvement in this case as he works with DJ’s family in the hopes of achieving justice for their son.

He also shared his perspectives on the crime scene.

“Somebody went through an awful lot of trouble to get him there,” he said.

Player also pointed out what the independent forensic analysis confirmed – that DJ was not killed by a train but that his body was moved from another location and dumped on the tracks.

“There is no way he (DJ) did not see a train coming for at least, you know, three quarters of a mile,” Player said. “It’s a straight shot, there are no lights anywhere, the only light would have been the gigantic one on the front of the train.”

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NEXT STEPS

The determination and persistence of DJ’s mother – and his stepfather’s experience as an investigator – are what led us to this point in the narrative. They also provide the backdrop for the next step in our story, a wrongful death lawsuit against a number of individuals who were with DJ the night he died.

A civil lawsuit as a means of justice in a murder case is not unheard of, but it is certainly an unusual approach. During my conversation with Player he explained, “essentially, you’re in a situation where the state screwed it up, as they did in the OJ (Simpson) case.”

“Right now, we’re trying to go through the information and the interviews, documents that we have to see if we have enough to name the people that we think were involved,” Player said. “Right now I’ve got three in my head that I feel confident we have more than a justifiable, we have enough information to file a lawsuit and to see if these people had any responsibility for DJ’s death.”

A civil lawsuit will also give Player the ability to depose the individuals involved – including investigators. When asked if the primary goal of the lawsuit was to apply pressure on law enforcement officials to reopen the case, Player said the primary goal was to achieve justice for DJ and his family.

“We don’t have any control over what they do,” he said, referring to investigators. “We’re hoping to make enough noise that there will be enough public pressure on the authorities to go back and relook at this case. But if they don’t, then at least (the family) can find some solace in a jury coming forth and saying these people were responsible for his death, even though they can’t carry any criminal penalties.”

For Lesia Melendez, the goal has always been simple – to find the truth about how her son died and for those responsible to be held accountable. With the renewed focus on DJ’s death, she believes she is finally getting closer to the truth – and to that elusive accountability.

As noted in the podcast, we want you to participate in this ongoing conversation – and to be a part of its resolution.  Let us know what you think happened!  No one should be shy about sharing their perspectives, observations and conclusions.

Anyone with information about the circumstances surrounding the murder of DJ Smith is encouraged to make contact by emailing research@fitsnews.com.

FITSFiles is written, produced and hosted by our team of dedicated journalists including this reporter, research director Jenn Wood, special projects director Dylan Nolan and founding editor Will Folks. New episodes drop every Wednesday morning. Be sure to like and subscribe to FITSFiles on your podcast platform of choice (including AppleSpotifyGoogle and others) so you won’t miss a single episode.

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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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WANNA SOUND OFF?

Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.

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