A motion that seeks to vacate a decision by Jackson County Judge Mark Clark who threw out a jury’s decision which found Gaege Bethune guilty of the 2014 murder of Indian American Pravin Varughese, was accepted electronically by the Illinois state Supreme Court Oct. 17.
The motion also seeks to have Bethune sentenced immediately. The seven justices of the Illinois state Supreme Court have not signed off on the motion, which would allow prosecutors to file a writ of mandamus, mandating that Clark act immediately. But Jackson County, Illinois Special Prosecutor David Robinson told India-West: “The writing is on the wall. They will grant the writ, deny the writ, or order additional briefing,” he explained.
The suspect is currently free on bond, even after a jury in June found him guilty on one count of murder in Varughese’s death. The suspect and victim allegedly engaged in a brawl on the night of Feb. 14, 2014, after which Varughese went missing for several days. His body was found in the woods near Carbondale, Illinois. An initial autopsy ruled that Varughese – who was a student at Southern Illinois University – died of hypothermia. But the Varughese family hired a private medical examiner who found that the young man had died from blunt force trauma.
The jury did not convict Bethune on the charge of murder during the commission of a robbery, but did find him guilty of murder.
Bethune’s attorneys filed motions for a new trial, which Clark did not grant, but – on the day he was to be sentenced – the judge threw out the jury’s verdict, based on a syntax error in the indictment for the use of the word “knowingly.”
In his decision to throw out the verdict, Clark stated that the prosecution had adequately made its case against Bethune, and that the jury’s instructions could cause no confusion. (See earlier India-West story here.)
“There is a word in there that could have been confusing. I don’t think it was confusing. I have no reason to think the jury was confused,” Lovely Varughese, Pravin’s mother, recalled Clark saying, shortly before he said the sentence was “faintly flawed.”
“My only choice is to grant another trial,” said Clark, as recalled by Lovely Varughese.
“Everyone was in absolute shock. I kept thinking, ‘This is not real. This cannot be happening’” Varughese told India-West. “To vacate a jury’s decision based on a syntax error is just unthinkable,” she said.
Robinson told India-West Clark’s decision to overturn the jury’s verdict is “a violation of the Constitution.”
“You cannot just throw out a jury’s verdict without citing relevant law,” he said. “The judge is wrong and the Supreme Court will see that,” said the prosecutor, noting that his office has rarely used this method for addressing a grievance, having filed just two motions with the Supreme Court over the past 25 years.
Lovely Varughese said that she hopes the fact that Bethune is currently free on bail will encourage the Supreme Court to act with greater speed. “Where we are now is really extraordinary,” she said, noting the speed with which Robinson filed the motion.
“I’m realizing that God has sent my son Pravin here on a mission,” said Lovely Varughese. “His case has started a complete rethink of the local justice system. It has shed so much light into the many problems within our system,” she added.