• Trooper Who Investigated Death of Buster Murdaugh’s Classmate Says It’s ‘Definitely’ Murder — But Case Was Quickly Deemed Hit-and-Run

    A South Carolina state trooper who responded to the 2015 death of a gay teen found near the property of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh and his family said he immediately believed it was murder.

    South Carolina Highway Patrol Lieutenant Thomas Moore told WJCL that he believed Smith, 19, who was found dead on a road in Hampton County, was murdered at that spot or killed and dumped there. Moore alleged that despite his suspicions, the probe was quickly closed because a medical examiner deemed his death a hit-and-run.

    Moore alleged that Smith had minimal road rash and his shoes were still on his feet — which Moore says suggests he was not fatally hit by a car.

    Speaking with WJCL, Moore claimed he took his concerns to officials at the highway patrol as he believed they should have contested the medical examiner’s findings. He reportedly also alerted the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office.

    “ … And line by line explained to them why this was not a hit and run and tried to hand them the file, and they would physically not take it with their hands,” he recalled.

    WJCL reported that Smith’s case was eventually closed due to a lack of witnesses and insufficient leads.

    However, attorneys representing Smith’s mother said on Tuesday that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has since deemed Smith’s death a homicide, as CrimeOnline reported. On Wednesday, the agency issued a statement in which they clarified the timeline of the investigation into Smith’s death.

    In the press release, SLED said an autopsy was performed the same day Smith’s body was discovered, and a medical examiner determined he was fatally struck by a car.

    “SLED was not requested by the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office or the South Carolina Highway Patrol to investigate Mr. Smith’s death in 2015,” the agency said.

    According to the agency, it reexplored Smith’s case after agents “received information” and reviewed the highway patrol’s investigative file. However, it is unclear what information they got, where or who it came from, and why it led to them reviewing the case.

    STEPHEN SMITH CASE: SLED releases official statement.
    “On June 23, 2021, SLED opened an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith after SLED Agents received information about his death and subsequently reviewed the SCHP investigative file.”
    1/ pic.twitter.com/beJ0v3LjDT

    — Mandy Matney (@MandyMatney) March 22, 2023

    “From SCHP case notes it was apparent that the SCHP did not believe Mr. Smith’s death was a hit and run by a motor vehicle,” SLED said in Wednesday’s statement.

    “SLED’s investigation into the death of Mr. Smith was never closed – it remains a homicide investigation. Progress has been made, and SLED’s investigation is active and ongoing.”

    Smith attended high school with Buster Murdaugh, who recently denied having a role in Smith’s death.

    “This has gone on far too long. 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,” Buster said in a statement issued to NBC.

    Smith’s family said that they were seeking an independent autopsy in light of the investigation into Paul and Maggie Murdaugh’s 2021 murders. The slayings — which were carried out by Alex Murdaugh — occurred nearly two weeks before SLED revisited Smith’s case. At the time, SLED said information it uncovered while investigating the Murdaughs’ murders prompted them to look again at the case.

    Last week, Smith’s family reached their goal on GoFundMe to have the teen’s body exhumed and reexamined.

    For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode:

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    [Featured image: Stephen Smith/Facebook]

  • UPDATE: Cops Find Car Associated With Student Suspect Who Allegedly Shot 2 Faculty Members at Denver High School

    Update 8:20 p.m.: Denver police said that they have located the vehicle they believed Austin Lyle was driving and are still looking for the suspect in the shooting at Denver East High School.

    Original story: 

    A 17-year-old student reportedly shot two staff members Wednesday morning at Denver East High School and fled the scene.

    Denver Police identified the suspect as Austin Lyle and said the shooting took place during a “security search” that detected a gun, the Denver Post reported. He is now wanted for attempted murder.

    Police Chief Ron Thomas said the search was “a regular protocol with this student” based on past behavior, the Post said. After the shooting — at about 9:50 a.m. — Lyle “was able to get out of the school,” Thomas said.

    UPDATE: Your #Denver Police Department continues working in conjunction with local, state and federal law enforcement partners to locate the suspect from today’s shooting at Denver East High School. Due to the public safety concern that he poses, the Department is identifying… pic.twitter.com/RmwO940Qug

    — Denver Police Dept. (@DenverPolice) March 22, 2023

    KDVR reported that the protocol was in place because Lyle had been expelled from another school district, citing a source with connections to the school district. School superintendent Alex Marrero said that Lyle had transferred from another district but did not mention why he transferred or why he was being searched daily, the Post reported.

    Thomas said that the department identified the juvenile suspect “due to the public safety concern.”

    “We don’t have any sense of where he is. We know where he lives,” the chief said during a press briefing Wednesday morning at the the school.

    Marrero said classes would be canceled at the school for the remainder of the week. He also said that two armed officers will be on duty for the rest of the school year once classes resume, adding that the district was “looking forward to expanding that conversation to see how we can reestablish a relationship” after the school board voted to disband school resource officers following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

    KUSA identifed the victims as Jerald Mason and Eric Sinclair, both listed as deans at the school. Denver Health confirmed that both were patients there. One of them was in surgery with life-threatening injuries, and the other was in serious but stable condition and was speaking with investigators.

    Police described Lyle as 5 feet 5 inches tall and about 150 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a green, hooded sweatshirt and is believed to be driving a 2005 red Volvo XC90 with Colorado license plates BSCW10.

    For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast.

    [Featured image: Austin Lyle/Denver Police Department]

  • Former warden at women’s prison known as ‘rape club’ gets 70 months for sexual abuse

    Ray J. Garcia was found guilty of three counts of sex with an incarcerated person, four counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of lying to the FBI.

  • ‘Rick and Morty’ co-creator Justin Roiland’s felony domestic violence charges dropped

    Domestic violence charges against Justin Roiland, co-creator of ‘Rick and Morty,’ were dropped Tuesday. But Adult Swim and Hulu already cut ties.

  • Photos: Possible tornado rips roof off Montebello buildings as wild weather continues

    The National Weather Service was investigating the possibility that a tornado was responsible for ripping the roof off a building in Montebello on Wednesday morning.

  • Attorneys for Accused Tot Killer Mom Seek to Have Murder Case Dismissed

    Attorneys for the Georgia woman accused of killing her toddler son last fall and tossing his body in a garbage dumpster have asked the judge in the case to throw out the three murder chargers against her.

    Leilani Simon, 23, is due in court on Thursday for a bond hearing and arraignment on charges that she beat 20-month-old Quinton Simon to death on October 4 then reported him missing the next day to Chatham County police, prompting a 6-week search that ended when investigators found Quinton’s remains in a landfill.

    Chatham County police had said just a week after Quinton’s disappearance that they believed the boy was dead and that his mother was the only suspect, and she was arrested on November 21. She was jailed without bond and indicted in December on 19 counts, including two counts of felony murder and one count of malice murder as well as four counts of lying to investigators.

    Simon’s public defender filed motions to dismiss the charges of lying to investigators as well, according to WSAV. The attorney said that the charges against Simon are “imperfect in form” and “failed to allege any manner of death, any manner in which any cruel and excessive physical pain was inflicted, or the nature of any object or weapon which resulted in any serious injury to the victim.”

    According to the indictment, Simon beat Quinton with an “object … unknown to the grand jury at this time,” killing him “with malice aforethought.” She then took his body to the Azalea Mobile Home Plaza, where she discarded the toddler in the dumpster. During the course of the investigation, she told detectives several times she left her home in the late night hours of October 4 to pay an existing drug debt, statements that are included in the indictment as falsehoods.

    She also told several differing stories about meeting a friend to pick up Orajel for mouth pain in the early hours of October 5, first saying they met at a gas station and then that they met at the mobile home park.  When confronted about having thrown “something” in the dumpster there, she said on October 12 it had been “normal household garbage.”

    Another change in the story came on October 31 when she claimed it was someone else, and not she, who left the house early that morning, although she changed that story again on November 21, when she was arrested,  saying that she did leave the house and travel to the mobile home park, but she did not meet her friend there and “did not remember what she had done there.”

    Simon is expected to be in the courtroom on Thursday, although Judge Tammy Stokes has already barred livestreaming of the proceedings, as CrimeOnline previously reported.

    For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast.

    [Featured image: Leilani Simon, left, and Quinton Simon/Chatham County Police}

  • Jacquelyn Mitchell: Convicted Rapist Admits to Killing Missing Woman Found Dead in His Apartment After 6 Days

    An acquaintance allegedly confessed to killing a Missouri woman who was found dead on Monday, six days after she had vanished.

    According to KTVI, police said suspect Joseph Dejoie, 49, and Jacquelyn Mitchell, 39, had exchanged text messages on the same day Mitchell disappeared on March 14. Maryland Heights police Chief Bill Carson said they zeroed in on Dejoie after reviewing surveillance footage of Dejoie driving Mitchell’s car.

    On Monday, authorities from St. Charles and Maryland Heights discovered Jacquelyn Mitchell’s body in a Maryland Heights apartment where Dejoie resided. Carson said Mitchell had been dead for six days.

    Reported missing on March 16, Mitchell, 39, vanished on March 14 after leaving work in Sunset Hills and going to Maggie O’Brien’s, a restaurant that is located nearby.

    At some point, an owner of a jewelry store reportedly gave Mitchell’s sister surveillance footage which apparently showed Mitchell in a shopping plaza before she left alone in her car. Mitchell’s sister gave the video to the police.

    Mitchell’s sister said her cell phone last pinged near Highway 364 and Bennington, which allowed investigators to focus on a six-mile radius in Maryland Heights. On Sunday, Mitchell’s relatives reportedly found her car abandoned at the Whisper Hollow Apartments in Maryland Heights.

    Additionally, Carson claimed that Mitchell left the restaurant and went to an acquaintance’s apartment, presumably Dejoie’s. Police reportedly discovered Mitchell’s body in Dejoie’s home after obtaining a search warrant.

    According to KMOV, Dejoie also admitted to wiping down Mitchell’s car and her body in an attempt to hide evidence. Officials have not revealed Mitchell’s cause of death.

    Dejoie has prior convictions for burglary, rape, and possession of drug paraphernalia, KTVI reported.

    Dejoie is charged with second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, and abandonment of a corpse. He remains jailed on a $1 million bond.

    For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode:

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    [Featured image: Joseph Dejoie/Maryland Heights Police Department; Jacquelyn Mitchell/Handout]

  • [Crime Stories with Nancy Grace] BOMBSHELL TROUBLE FOR ALEX MURDAUGH: Teen Stephen Smith Death is Homicide

    It has taken eight years but teen Stephen Smith’s death will finally be investigated as a homicide.

    The Smith family has never believed that the 19-year-old’s death was a hit and run as determined by a previous investigation. In just a week, the South Carolina mom raised more money through a GoFundMe account than what is needed to pay for the exhumation of Smith’s body. Now, all that’s needed is court approval.

    South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel notified Smith’s attorneys that the agency now officially considers Smith’s death a murder. Smith’s body was found miles away from his car and lying in the middle of the road. At first, responders thought he had been shot in the head, but the death was designated as a hit-and-run.

    Joining Nancy Grace today:

    Eric Bland – Attorney for Sandy Smith & Gloria Satterfield’s sons- Founder/Partner  Bland, Richer, LLP Attorneys at Law; Twitter: @TheEricBland; Co-host of ‘Cup of Justice’ podcast.
    Ronnie Richter – Attorney for Sandy Smith, Satterfield family, and other victims of Alex Murdaugh; Partner, Bland Richter Law Firm; Twitter: @BlandRichterSC
    Caryn Stark – NYC Psychologist; Twitter: @carynpsych, Facebook: “Caryn Stark”
    Chris McDonough – Director At the Cold Case Foundation, Former Homicide Detective, & Host of YouTube channel, ‘The Interview Room’
    Dr. Michelle DuPre – Former Forensic Pathologist, Medical Examiner, & Detective: Lexington County Sheriff’s Department; Author: “Homicide Investigation Field Guide” & “Investigating Child Abuse Field Guide;” Forensic Consultant
    Blair Sabol – Investigative Reporter for Live 5 News in Charleston, SC; Twitter: @BlairSabolTV

    Blair Sabol – Investigative Reporter for Live 5 News in Charleston, SC; Twitter: @BlairSabolTV

    Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” on Fox Nation is also a national radio show on SiriusXM channel 111, airing for two hours daily starting at 12 p.m. EST. You can also subscribe and download the daily podcasts at iHeart Podcasts.

    [Feature Photo: Stephen Smith/Handout]

  • Kathy Hochul hits back in budget-tied bail fight after progressives claim ‘gloves off’

    The embattled governor doubled down on threats to hold up a state budget deal unless the state Senate and Assembly give in on her bail proposal.

  • ‘Get that camera out of my client’s face’: Gwyneth Paltrow Lawyer is ‘Mad’ as Camera Points at Actress in Courtroom

    The lawyer for Gwyneth Paltrow is complaining about courtroom and parking lot cameras pointing at the Academy Award-winning actress.

    As CrimeOnline previously reported, Paltrow is currently on trial in Park City, Utah, after a skier, identified as Dr. Terry Sanderson, sued her following a 2016 “hit and run” ski crash behind the Deer Valley resort. Sanderson, according to Fox News Digital, is suing Paltrow for $300,000.

    On Wednesday, Paltrow’s lead defense attorney, Stephen Owen,s complained about “cameras in her face” to Third District Court Judge Kent Holmberg.

    “Your honor, we have a new camera pointed directly at my client,” Owens said. “Right there, on the right, which I understand is from the AP.”

    “This has been a problem where, for instance, reporters being in front of my client’s car. Going out, yesterday, cameras in her face.”

    Holmberg said he recognized the issue inside the court and would have a court representative investigate “and make sure it’s pointed at the lectern rather than at the counsel table,” Law & Crime reports.

    “I recognize it as a problem,” the judge said.

    Watch the court clip below. 

    Sanderson’s lawyers accuse Paltrow of fleeing the scene while on her skis and not offering assistance, which left the doctor with “permanent traumatic brain injury, 4 broken ribs, pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life,” court documents state.

    “Distracted skiers cause crashes. Defendant Gwyneth Paltrow knew that looking up the mountain and to the side, while skiing down the mountain, was dangerous,” Sanderson’s attorney, Lawrence D. Buhler, said during opening statements. “And she knew that skiing that way … was reckless.”

    A complaint filed in 2019 accused Paltrow of leaving “Sanderson stunned, lying in the snow, seriously injured,” while a Deer Valley ski instructor also allegedly skied away after witnessing the crash.

    Paltrow countersued Sanderson and claimed he was the one who crashed into her. She’s suing for the cost of legal fees and $1 in damages.

    Her attorneys told the court Tuesday that she sustained a “full body blow” after Sanderson crashed into her, calling the defense’s story “BS,” AP reports.

    Terry Sanderson arrives at court Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Park City, Utah. The retired optometrist is suing actor Gwyneth Paltrow over a 2016 ski collision that took place at Deer Valley Resort. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

    Paltrow’s attorney, Steve Owen, said people who were skiing with the actress stopped to check on Sanderson, who assured the group that he was fine. Sanderson reportedly did not deny the accusation but claimed he couldn’t remember what he said.

    “His memories of the case get better over the years. That’s all I’m gonna say. That’s not how memory works,” Owens replied.

    Paltrow’s attorneys said Sanderson overstated his injuries in an attempt to get a come-up while exploiting the Oscar Award-winning star’s wealth and fame.

    “He demanded Ms. Paltrow pay him millions. If she did not pay, she would face negative publicity resulting from his allegations,” the 2019 complaint read.

    Sanderson later amended the complaint. He was initially seeking $1.3 million in damages before reducing it to $300,000 for negligence.

    The trial is expected to last around a week. Check back for updates.

    For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Listen to the latest episode below. 

    Join Nancy Grace for her new online video series designed to help you protect what you love most — your children.

    [Feature Photo: Actor Gwyneth Paltrow shields her face with a blue notebook as she exits a courtroom, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Park City, Utah, where she is accused in a lawsuit of crashing into a skier during a 2016 family ski vacation, leaving him with brain damage and four broken ribs. Terry Sanderson claims that the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer was cruising down the slopes so recklessly that they violently collided, leaving him on the ground as she and her entourage continued their descent down Deer Valley Resort, a skiers-only mountain known for its groomed runs, après-ski champagne yurts and posh clientele. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool]