SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - A downstate man is facing murder charges for the death of a Southern Illinois University student from the northern suburbs three years ago, charges that never would have been filed if not for the persistence of the victim’s mother.
Pravin Varughese of Morton Grove was found dead in a wooded area near Carbondale on Feb. 18, 2014, five days after he was reported missing.
An initial autopsy showed the 19-year-old Niles West graduate died from hypothermia, but the family disagreed, even filing a civil lawsuit against the man they though had beaten their son to death after giving him a ride.
Nearly three-and-a-half years and a special prosecutor later, and 22-year-old Gaege Bethune of Eldorado has been indicted on two counts of felony murder, according to the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor.
Bethune turned himself in Thursday and was being held in the Jackson County Jail in Murphysboro on a $1 million dollar bond. He is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 18.
After the initial autopsy, the family had a second autopsy done in Chicago, and it showed Varughese died of blunt force trauma to his head; and also had a number of other injuries to his body, including a large injury to the right arm.
In March 2015, the Circuit Court of Jackson County appointed the Office of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor to review the
case to “determine whether sufficient evidence existed to seek an indictment—specifically, the potential offense of homicide,” a statement from the Appellate Prosecutor said.
The special prosecutor eventually impaneled a grand jury, which indicted Bethune this week on two counts of first-degree murder.
Lovely Varughese’s lawsuit was filed against the city of Carbondale, its police chief, and Bethune, whose name was not known at the time.
The lawsuit claimed wrongful death against the driver, claiming he picked up Varughese on the road and later “hit him in the head with a blunt force instrument causing his death.”
The suit claimed a state trooper reported seeing a man “coming out of a particular wooded area,” and the man said he had given a ride to someone who wandered off into the woods.
The trooper videotaped the incident, and the family claims Carbondale police failed to further investigate. The suit accused the city and police of negligence, and seeks at least $1 million in damages.
That case is still pending.