Buster Murdaugh sues Netflix, others over reporting on Stephen Smith’s death

Buster Murdaugh, the sole surviving son of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh, has filed a libel lawsuit against multiple big-name documentary producers and a media company, alleging they falsely implied he killed a Hampton County gay teen in 2015.

Defendants include Netflix, Warner Brothers Discovery, Gannett and others, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Hampton County. Buster Murdaugh’s attorney is Shaun Kent, a well-known South Carolina lawyer.

The lawsuit says Murdaugh has suffered “mental anguish” and his reputation has suffered irreparable damage. It seeks actual and punitive damages but does not specify how much.

The lawsuit is the latest in a years-long series of head-spinning events and legal actions involving convicted killer and disbarred lawyer Alex Murdaugh, his family and former law firm, a series of violent deaths and millions of dollars in fraud and embezzlements masterminded by Murdaugh, now serving life sentences for murder in state prison.

Following a fatal 2019 boat crash in a craft apparently piloted by Paul Murdaugh, Buster’s younger brother, and the 2021 mysterious killings of Paul and his mother, Maggie, at a remote estate, media interest exploded in the Murdaugh family. Journalists and teams of documentary producers from different countries flooded the Lowcountry, seeking information in what quickly became one of the nation’s most sensational true crime sagas.

One widely publicized event linked to the Murdaugh saga by rumors was the unexplained 2015 death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old gay teen whose body was found on a July night in the middle of a Hampton County rural two-lane road.

The rumors had reached such a fever pitch that in March 2023, within weeks of his father’s conviction for killing his brother and mother, Buster issued this public statement: “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.”

The lawsuit says that a statewide grand jury is investigating Smith’s death, but Buster “has not been notified by any law enforcement entities of any allegations against him related to Stephen Smith’s death.”

Defendants in Buster Murdaugh’s lawsuit suggested or implied that Buster, alone or with others, “murdered” Smith, the lawsuit says,

Millions of people have viewed the documentaries, according to the lawsuit.

Here is a list of defendants and the lawsuit’s allegations against them:

Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., which on June 17, 2022, began streaming a series, “Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty” on its nationwide platform +discovery. The lawsuit says that during one 10-minute segment, Buster Murdaugh “is alluded to a number of times as the murderer of Stephen Smith.”

Blackfin Inc., which created and produced the “Murdaugh Murders: Deadly Dynasty” for Warner Bros. Discovery.

Warner Media Entertainment Pages, which, with Warner Bros. Discovery, began streaming a three-part series called “Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty.” This series published false statements “that suggest” Buster, along with others, murdered Stephen Smith by striking him with a baseball bat.

Campfire Studios, which produced the series “Low Country: The Murdaugh Dynasty”

Netflix, which in February 2023 began streaming a series called “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.” The series depicts a young man with red hair carrying a baseball bat. Buster Murdaugh has red hair, the lawsuit said, and “it is readily ascertainable from the content of the series that the creators were depicting the plaintiff as the murderer of Stephen Smith.”

Cinemart, LLC, which produced “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal” for Netflix.

Gannett Co., a major newspaper publisher and the owner of papers including USA Today. Gannett also owns the Hampton County Guardian, a weekly newspaper that for 143 years has covered Hampton County, where the Murdaughs have lived for four generations.

Michael DeWitt, the editor of the Hampton County Guardian who covered the Murdaughs as a prominent local family for years before their scandal became international news. The allegations against DeWitt focus on statements that he made when appearing in the Netflix documentary, “Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.” When discussing Smith’s death, DeWitt said “we were hearing all of these rumors about a possible connection” and “there is some truth to it.” In his interview, DeWitt said that he “began to have a bad taste in my mouth” about the Murdaughs and members of the community would thank him for running a story alluding to rumors of the Murdaugh’s involvement, without naming the family.

“Put in the context with the remainder of the documentary it is clear that Mr. DeWitt is falsely accusing the Plaintiff of being involved in the murder of Stephen Smith,” according to the lawsuit.

When reached by The State, DeWitt declined to comment. DeWitt is the author of “The Fall of the House of Murdaugh,” one of several books on the Murdaugh family that has been published since Alex Murdaugh was convicted of murder in March, 2023.

This is a breaking news story. Check back here for more updates.