UPDATE (JULY 17, 2017):
JACKSON COUNTY, IL — A grand jury has indicted Gaege Bethune, 22, on two counts of first-degree murder for the 2014 death of 19-year-old Southern Illinois University student Pravin Varughese.
Authorities released Bethune on Friday, after the suspect’s father posted $1 million bond.
Led by Pravin’s mother, Lovely Varughese, the dead student’s family campaigned nonstop for justice. They rejected the initial ruling that Pravin died from hypothermia and hired their own expert medical examiner, who determined foul play.
Following Friday’s indictment, Lovely Varughese said, “This is not a victory,” but said her family is “extremely thankful” for all the law-enforcement agencies and attorneys who took up her son’s cause and have moved the case to this stage.
The indictment is sealed at present, pending Bethune’s trial.
CARBONDALE, IL — The hunt for missing Southern Illinois student Pravin Varughese came to a dreaded conclusion on February 18, 2014. That’s when searchers, led by Varughese’s cousins, discovered his dead body in a wooded area not far from the school’s campus.
Varughese, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in criminal justice, had disappeared five days earlier, immediately following a “fight” inside the pickup truck of Gaege Bethune, another 19-year-old SIU student.
According to Bethune, he saw Varughese walking outside at about 11:30 P.M., and offered him a ride back to school. Bethune told police that Varughese was drunk and belligerent, prompting the driver to pull over. He said a “scuffle” erupted between the young men.
Spotting the parked truck, Illinois State Trooper Chris Martin stopped to check it out. Bethune claims that before Martin reached them, Varughese slipped out of the vehicle and “ran south into the woods.”
At first, Bethune told Martin a “black male” had attempted to rob him and then took off on foot. Later, Bethune said he’d been drinking and concocted the story to avoid a sobriety test. The patrolmen shined his light into the surrounded area, but saw no one and drove off.
Parvin Varughese was never seen alive again.
Once Varughese’s disappearance made the news, Bethune came forward and submitted to questioning. His story changed during separate interrogations, and authorities determined he would have to face a grand jury.Unfortunately, State Trooper Martin only filed a report on the incident with Bethune’s truck after Varughese turned up dead — a mere 350 yards from where the vehicle had been parked.
James Jacobi, a forensic pathologist working for the Jackson County Coroner’s Office, found no intoxicants in Varughese’s body and ruled the teen’s cause of death to be “hypothermia and an accident.” In essence, then, the official story was — and has remained — that Pravin Varughese got lost in the woods and froze to death.
However, Varughese’s tight-knit Indian-American family has never bought into that account. Pravin’s parents hired Ben Margolis, an independent coroner, to perform a follow-up up exam.
Margolis discovered bruises and scratches all over Varughese’s body, including a deep forearm slash that cut all the way to the bone, which the examiner deemed a “defense wound.” In addition, Margolis found Bethune’s DNA on Varughese’s remains, as well as the DNA of an unidentified individual.
Ultimately, Margolis concluded that Varughese died from blunt-force trauma, likely while running for his life.
Alas, the state never submitted the second autopsy findings as evidence. As a possible result of that, two separate grand juries cleared Bethune of four different counts of first- and second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and concealment of homicidal death.
The Varughese family has filed a $5 million lawsuit against Bethune, as well as the city of Carbondale, Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer, and former Carbondale police chief Jody O’Guinn. The suit also cites Illinois State Police trooper Chris Martin, as the family believes he could have saved Pravin’s life if he had handled Bethune more responsibly.
Bethune and his attorneys, in the meantime, maintain his innocence.
Although the lawsuit remains unresolved, Lovely Varughese, Pravin’s mother, has vowed to continue her pursuit, telling the press, “This is a disgrace to our judicial system. I will not let this go until I take my last breath.”
Main photo: Gaege Nethune [Jackson County Sheriff’s Office]