A TEEN found dead in the middle of the road allegedly had head injuries consistent with gunshot wounds, leading investigators to believe the scene was staged, police docs say.
Stephen Smith was 19 when his body was found approximately 15 miles from the Murdaugh family home in South Carolina, July 2015.
It was initially believed that Smith died from a heartless hit-and-run while he was looking for help after his vehicle had reportedly run out of gas.
Autopsy results suggested the impact caused the teen’s death, but his heartbroken family refused to believe their son described as “skittish” would walk into the road unthinkingly.
On Wednesday, officials made a bombshell announcement that it was “clear” investigators did not suspect the incident was manslaughter, and confirmed the tragedy was now being considered a homicide.
It comes after South Carolina Highway Patrol officials who responded to the incident reportedly said that a wound on his skull appeared to be consistent with a gunshot, according to Multi-Action Disciplinary Team case notes seen by Inside Edition Digital.
According to incident reports, this injury was later attributed to a truck that may have side-swiped him with a rearview mirror.
However, detectives at the scene have spoken out with theories that would suggest homicide.
Investigator Todd Proctor, who responded to the death, claimed to Fox News that based on his 15 years of experience, “nothing about this case” could indicate it was a hit-and-run.
“As any investigator, you go off of the evidence – there was no evidence that pointed towards this being a hit and run, or a vehicle even being involved in it,” he claimed to the outlet in 2021.
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“It looked like it was more staged. Like possibly the body had been placed in the roadway.”
Proctor explained that when a person is fatally struck by a vehicle, it causes them to “tumble down the road,” leaving their clothes and shoes strewn across the street.
“We have no evidence to show there was any movement of the body,” he explained.
“It looked like it was placed there.”
He added that Smith’s keys, phone, and wallet were “hanging halfway out of his pocket.
“It just didn’t fit the description that this individual was hit by a vehicle.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division launched the murder investigation on June 23, 2021, citing new evidence while analyzing the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.
“Progress had been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing,” the statement reads.
Additional agents have now been assigned to the case.
The unclear link between the Murdaugh investigation and Smith’s death led to online speculation that implicated Buster Murdaugh, the only surviving son of his convicted murderer father Alex.
In a heartwrenching letter published by Fit News, Smith’s mom begged the FBI to consider Buster a suspect.
In the letter, she claimed that the investigation into her son’s death has been “deliberately derailed.”
Sandy Smith has never stopped demanding justice for her son, suggesting that Buster could be responsible for his murder and that the Murdaugh family attempted to cover up the crime.
Meanwhile, Buster has voiced his innocence and has tried to silence rumors linking him to Stephen Smith’s death.
“I have tried my best to ignore the vicious rumors about my involvement in Stephen Smith’s tragic death that continue to be published in the media as I grieve over the brutal murders of my mother and brother,” Buster said in a statement obtained by The U.S. Sun.
“I love them so much and miss them terribly.”
“These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false.
“I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death, and my heart goes out to the Smith family.
“I am requesting that the media immediately stop publishing these defamatory comments and rumors about me.”
Meanwhile, the devastated mother remains worried that “history is repeating itself” and concluded the letter with her concern that “no one here is trying to solve our case.”
However, Buster doesn’t face any charges and police have not linked him to the crime.
As the Smith investigation is ongoing, anyone with information is urged to contact SLED’s tip line at 1-800-CALL-SLED.
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