Plans to exhume the physique of a 19-year-old killed close to the Murdaugh household residence in South Carolina have given his mother hope a brand new post-mortem will clear up his thriller loss of life.
Stephen Smith died in July 2015, however his mom Sandy has lengthy disputed the official recorded reason behind loss of life, a hit-and-run, and claimed he was murdered.
The investigation into his loss of life was revisited in 2021 after the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh – for which husband and father Alex was convicted on March 3.
South Carolina Legislation Enforcement Division mentioned they started probing the case “based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation,” however haven’t elaborated additional.
Sandy mentioned she would “pursue the exhumation immediately” after elevating $40,000 through a GoFundMe web page to pay for an impartial exhumation and post-mortem.
“While the state can elect and fund an exhumation and new autopsy, it is our understanding that it would be carried out at [the Medical University of South Carolina], where his death was initially classified as hit-and-run despite no evidence to support it,” she wrote on the web page on the time.
However the exhumation – which should first get the green-light from a decide – is barely the start of a radical course of that entails re-examining how Smith’s physique was dealt with in the course of the preliminary investigation over seven years in the past, mentioned longtime main forensics skilled Joseph Scott Morgan.
Stephen was discovered with a big wound to the best aspect of his brow in the course of the highway, three miles away from his automotive.
He additionally had a dislocated shoulder and cuts to his left hand, based on police experiences.
Police initially acknowledged the loss of life “appeared to be a homicide,” however an post-mortem carried out the identical day he was discovered useless dominated he had been the sufferer of a hit-and-run.
How the physique was dealt with within the essential hours after being discovered makes all of the distinction, Morgan instructed The Submit.
“There’s so much you can miss,” he mentioned, when reached by cellphone. “That’s why we treat all deaths as if they’re a homicide until they’re proven otherwise, particularly traumatic deaths.”
Whether or not Smith’s physique was sufficiently embalmed may play a job too, he mentioned.
Morgan, who co-hosts a real crime podcast known as “Body Bags,” additionally questioned whether or not investigators carried out X-rays on Smith’s physique previous to his burial, and the flexibility to reexamine Smith’s garments from the evening of his loss of life, and emphasised the significance of each.
“Did they do any kind of X-rays of his body?” he requested. “If they did, maybe that’s something they could go back, and review those films that they did, compared to what they have now. Maybe they’ll go in and discover something else that otherwise might not have been picked up.”
Requested concerning the doable presence of overseas DNA, Morgan mentioned any molecular proof could be “out the door” from the second funeral employees cleaned Smith’s physique.
The method of conducting an post-mortem examination on an exhumed physique is additional difficult by environmental components, such because the doable presence of bugs or water within the underground surroundings, Morgan went on.
“A lot of people think they just dig a hole and put a casket in,” he mentioned, talking a few burial. “That’s not how it happens.”
A casket is then sealed in concrete, primarily making it “a box within a box,” Morgan added.
However “problems arise” if water is ready to make its manner in, he added.
“That’s one of the things they’re going to be fighting – the elements relative to this, we’re talking about seven years of rain and drought and all of these different things that impact the area,” he mentioned.
The standard of the casket can influence how protected the physique shall be.
“There are still insects that will get in there, they’ll damage the body,” he mentioned. “Then you can have things like mold.”
Nonetheless, Morgan added, investigators will nonetheless be capable of totally look at Smith’s stays.
“They’re going to have to do full-body X-rays, and look at every – from head to toe – every element involved,” he mentioned, “and look for any trauma that might be indwelling, in the most miniscule sense of that word.”
The preliminary coroner’s report decided Stephen suffered a head harm when he was struck by a semitruck’s mirror because the automobile handed, The Related Press reported.
Police reportedly believed he was strolling up the highway as a result of his automotive had run out of fuel on the time.
Nevertheless, an SLED spokesperson mentioned in a press release to The Submit they’ve “made progress in the death investigation of Stephen Smith, however this investigation remains active and ongoing.”
Murdaugh was as soon as thought-about a number one title in South Carolina politics earlier than the murders of Maggie and Paul unraveled a tangled net of monetary crimes, and allegations of cover-ups going again years.
Alex Murdaugh was given two life phrases for the murders of his spouse and son.
The Murdaugh household has since been alleged to have been concerned in at the least three different deaths locally, together with Smith’s.
In line with native information web site FITSnews, the Murdaugh household’s title was introduced up “more than 40 times throughout the course of the investigation” though no member of the household was ever formally questioned by the police.
The identical web site reported that native rumors had circulated that Alex’s surviving son, Buster, had been ultimately concerned within the loss of life, however this was by no means included in police notes.
Buster has by no means been named by police as a suspect within the incident or accused of any crime.
Chatting with The Submit on Friday, Morgan mentioned investigators re-examining Smith’s stays ought to “collect everything that you possibly can collect before they return his mortal remains to the ground.”
“You’ve already gone to all of the trouble to have the body exhumed,” he went on. “Why not put on full court press, do everything that you can possibly do?”
With Olivia Land
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