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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD/NewsNation) – Attorneys for the mother of Stephen Smith, the 19-year-old who was found dead along a rural South Carolina road in 2015, say the boy’s death has now been ruled a homicide.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) confirmed the information to Nexstar’s WCBD Tuesday night.

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

Smith was believed to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident, though his family doubted it from the start. Police said he was walking along the road after running out of gas, but investigators found no skid marks or car debris, and Smith’s loosely-tied shoes were still on his feet, attorneys have said.

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.

Though there is no known evidence linking any Murdaugh family members to Smith’s death, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh, Alex’s surviving son, issued a statement Monday denying rumors he was involved. Buster and Stephen were classmates at the time of the death.

However, Bland and Richter said that SLED Chief Mark Keel admitted to waiting until after the Murdaugh murder trial was over to make the announcement about the death being ruled 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 spoke exclusively with NewsNation after the Tuesday night announcement, saying she was elated by the news.

“I’m still in shock,” she said on NewsNation’s “CUOMO.” “I’m elated. I just have a lot of mixed emotions right now, this is what I’ve been waiting for.”

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.

Joining his client on “CUOMO,” Smith family attorney Eric Bland said, “It’s a golden day for this mother that her son was not killed on a highway as they indicated in the certificate of death.

Ronnie Richter, an attorney for Stephen Smith’s family, said on “Dan Abrams Live” Monday night that his team’s involvement in the case has “nothing to do” with Buster Murdaugh.

“Our involvement in, our participation in this case, has nothing to do with Buster Murdaugh. It does have everything to do with finding the ultimate truth and seeking the truth without regard to who’s involved,” Richter said during an appearance on “Dan Abrams Live.”