HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD/QCN) – Attorneys for the mother of Stephen Smith, who was found dead along a rural Hampton County road in 2015, said that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is investigating the death a homicide.

SLED confirmed the information Tuesday night.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW: Sign up here for QC News Alerts and get breaking news sent straight to your inbox

The news came following a call between attorney Eric Bland and SLED Chief Mark Keel, according to Bland Richter Law Firm.

Smith’s death was originally ruled a highway vehicular manslaughter. At the time, rumors circulated claiming that the prominent Murdaugh family was somehow connected to the death, but those rumors were never validated.

The case was reopened in 2021 after SLED found new evidence while investigating the deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh. SLED did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence, nor whether it connected any member of the Murdaugh family to Smith’s death. The Murdaugh family has adamantly denied any involvement.

However, Bland and Richter said that SLED admitted to waiting until after the Murdaugh murder trial was over to make the announcement about the death being investigated as a homicide “out of concern that witnesses would not be as forthcoming under the Murdaugh sphere of influence.”

On Monday, the Bland Richter Law Firm announced that it would represent Sandy Smith, Smith’s mother, in an independent investigation.

Sandy Smith raised money to exhume her son’s body as part of the independent investigation, but “SLED officials have revealed that they did not need to exhume Stephen Smith’s body to convince them that his death was a homicide,” Bland and Richter said. “However, they will be present and participate in any exhumation of Stephen’s body to gather more evidence.”

All this comes on the heels of the Murdaugh family memorabilia now headed to auction on Thursday, only weeks after Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life behind bars for murdering his wife and son.

The owner of the auction house said her phone has been ringing off the hook with people calling her to inquire about the family’s estate.

“Thursday is going to look like a madhouse in here, I believe, because I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails, thousands of Facebook messages and comments,” Lori Mattingly said. “The phone’s ringing off the hook.”

From turtle shell lamps, to animal mounts, to bedroom furniture — and even a couch with Maggie Murdaugh’s monogrammed pillows, Mattingly estimates they will have roughly 2,000 items from the home in their auction, which will also include pieces from other estates.

“A typical crowd for me is between 300 and 500 people, and I do genuinely expect that to at least double and maybe more,” Mattingly said.

Editor’s note: This story is breaking and will be updated.