Mother's Fight For Justice Continues After Son's Alleged Killer Goes Free

Pravin Varughese's mother believes he was murdered - and she spent years building a case to find justice for her only son

June 02, 2021
By: Mike McPadden

In the winter of 2014, college student Pravin Varughese was found dead in Carbondale, Illinois. While his death was ruled an accident, Pravin’s mother doesn’t believe the official account, and she has spent the last several years searching for justice.

To watch more on this case, stream Who Killed My Son? now on discovery+.

George Bethune was originally found guilty of first-degree murder

Update (September 19, 2018):

Gaege Bethune was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Pravin Varughese in June 2018. But in September that year, a judge tossed out the guilty verdict. Bethune was released on bond, and is now free.

The judge has ordered a new trial for Bethune, reportedly because he decided that the instructions the jury received in the initial hearing were not clear and the jury may have been confused. The judge stated that the indictment “could have been drafted with better words.”

The language in question is the word “knowingly” in the following passage:

“Gaege Bethune, committed the offense of First Degree Murder in that he, in committing or attempting to commit a forcible felony with an independent felonious purpose – namely, aggravated battery in violation of 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(a)(1) (battery which caused great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement other than by use of a firearm without lawful justification), KNOWINGLY made a physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature – inflicting by defendant’s own statement, multiple punches to the head and face rendering the victim ‘dead weight’…”

Lovely Varughese, Pravin’s mother, stated, “It’s very upsetting to everyone that has been following us…but I would say…just stay with the process and have faith in the system.”

Bethune was accused of beating and robbing Varughese after offering to give him a ride on a cold night

Update (June 15, 2018):

After seven hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Gaege Bethune, 23, on one count of first-degree murder in the 2014 death of 19-year-old Southern Illinois University Pravin Varughese.

Bethune was accused of beating and robbing Varughese after offering to give him a ride on a freezing February night, and then ditching the injured student in a wooded area, where he subsequently succumbed to hypothermia.

Defense lawyers argued that Varughese was “drunk and belligerent,” and that after instigating a fight with Bethune, he bolted out of the truck and ran into the woods on his own.

Prosecutors contended that one of Bethune’s punches to Varughese’s head caused “great bodily harm,” and thereby set in motion the “direct and foreseeable consequence” of the student’s death.

The jury convicted Bethune on that count of first-degree murder, but found him not guilty of robbery. Bethune now faces 20 to 60 years in prison. No sentencing date has been named yet.

Surveillance footage released in 2017 showed Bethune carrying another person across the street

Update (June 5, 2018):

This week sees the beginning of the first-degree murder trial of Gaege Bethune for the death of Pravin Varughese.

While authorities had determined that Varughese had expired naturally from hypothermia, his mother never believed those findings. After arranging for a private autopsy to be conducted by Dr. Ben Margolis, director of the Autopsy Center of Chicago, suspicious injuries were discovered that led to the arrest of Bethune.

The Southern Illinoisan credits the renewed interest in the controversial case to this video released by Investigation Discovery in 2017.

The video includes never-before-released surveillance footage showing Bethune carrying another person across the street.

The family rejected the initial ruling that Pravin died from hypothermia and hired their own expert medical examiner, who determined foul play

Update (July, 17, 2017):

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.

Searchers discovered his dead body in a wooded area - just 350 yards from where the suspects vehicle had been parked

Original Story:

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.”

Photo by: Pravin Varughese/image for distribution [Justice for Pravin website]

Pravin Varughese/image for distribution [Justice for Pravin website]

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.”

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