Bethune, 22, charged with two counts of first-degree murder; released on bail.
Nearly 42 months after Pravin Varughese was found dead in the woods near Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., a man long suspected to be behind the Indian American teenager’s death has been charged with murder.
Gaege Bethune, 22, was arraigned in a Jackson County Court on Tuesday on two counts of first-degree murder in the death of Varughese, who went missing in February 2014.
Bethune, who was arrested last week, pleaded not-guilty to the two charges of robbery and battery. He was released on bond after his family posted 10 percent of the $1 million bail.
A grand jury indictment, which was returned last week, stated that that the 19-year-old died of hypothermia after suffering deadly blows on his face and head, after which he was robbed.
Bethune, a resident of Eldorado, Illinois, does not have any connection with the Southern Illinois University, where Varughese was a student at the time of his death.
According to the indictment, Bethune admitted to the investigating authorities that he delivered “multiple punches to the head and face, rendering (Varughese) ‘dead weight.’”
“Finally, finally, finally… some answers,” Lovely Varughese, the mother of Pravin Varughese, told The American Bazaar by phone on Wednesday.
Lovely Varughese had waged a campaign to re-open the case after the Carbondale Police and State Attorney Michael Carr refused to press charges, stating that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Bethune, the last person to be seen with Varughese on that fateful night.
According to Carr, Bethune offered Varughese a ride, during which the two fought, and then the Indian American teenager — who had been “drinking” — got out of Bethune’s car, wandered off into the woods and died of “environmental hyperthermia.” Both the police and coroners said that Varughese froze to death in the woods, as he was not dressed well enough to be able to brave the frigid temperatures of a cold February night.
“They did not take [the case] seriously,” Lovely Varughese told The American Bazaar in an interview in June 2014. “They thought it was just a typical college kid who went partying, got drunk, and disappeared. They said that college kids do this, they go missing but then come back in four or five days, and we told them from the beginning that that’s not Pravin. He would never, ever do that.”
“The police told us that he was drinking, but he was not drinking,” Lovely said in that interview. “The people who were there at the party, all the girls and boys, they told us he did not drink at the party.”
After a previous grand jury, convened on the order of Carr, decided, in February 2015, not to charge anyone with murder, the Varugheses filed wrongful death lawsuits against Illinois State Police, trooper Chris Martin Bethune and the City of Carbondale.
“On February 25, 2015, Michael Carr said the case was closed,” Lovely Varughese said on Wednesday. “We didn’t buy it.”
One of the reasons the family continued to reject the initial police version was because a private autopsy it commissioned had revealed that the teenager had suffered blunt force trauma on his face and head.
As the Bazaar reported in June 2014, additional post-mortem work revealed that the teenager suffered at least three blunt force traumatic injuries prior to death. He also had several wounds on his right forearm, indicating that they were defensive in nature.
The indictment document stated that Varughese did suffer injuries in “forehead contusions/impressions and injuries to the nose consistent with blunt force trauma.”
“All my fight was to prove that my son had an injury and someone had caused that injury,” Lovely Varughese said on Wednesday.
Varughese, a nurse, and her husband, Mathew — a respiratory therapist — are immigrants from Kerala, India.
The turning point in the investigation was the recusal of Carr in March 2015, following which the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s office took over the case.
Varughese said her friend Monica Zukas was a source of strength for her during the family’s fight on behalf of Pravin.
Varughese said the arraignment brings some sort of a closure for her. “It was not an easy fight,” she said. “I tried to push through the system. It was a huge brick wall. It was not easy. But I feel that a ton of weight has been lifted off my shoulder. Now it’s up to the prosecutor, [Bethune’s] attorney, the jury and the judge.”
Was Pravin Varughese murdered? (June 17, 2014)
‘A young man beat up Pravin Varughese the night he went missing’ (June 30, 2014)