In July 2018, NBC’s signature news magazine, “Dateline,” aired a special episode shedding light on the death of Indian American student Pravin Varughese. On Aug. 5, the show, known for airing stories ranging from compelling mysteries to powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations, revisited the circumstances surrounding the death of the 19-year-old in an episode titled, “At the Edge of Town.”
Varughese went missing on the night of Feb. 12, 2014 and was found dead in a wooded area near Carbondale, Ill., six days later.
Four years after his death June 14, 2018, a jury in Jackson County, Illinois, found Gaege Bethune guilty of murdering the Southern Illinois University student.
On the night he died, Bethune gave Varughese a ride home from a party. Reports during the trial suggested that the two men got into an altercation. Bethune testified on the stand that Varughese ran out of his car and into the woods.
Law enforcement officials initially concluded that Varughese had died of hypothermia. But the Varughese family ordered a second autopsy, which concluded that Pravin died of blunt force trauma. In July 2018, Bethune was convicted by a jury of murdering Varughese. But a judge set aside the verdict and ordered a new trial. (Read earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2SChHW4)
“I knew one thing. I wasn’t going to stop,” Lovely Varughese, the mother of the late student, said on the episode.
The episode talks in detail about the search, Bethune’s interrogation, the trial, the heartbreak and the twist that stunned everyone.
“The judge said, ‘I’m going to warn you that one side of this courtroom is going to be very upset. If any of you cannot handle this, you need to leave the room right now,’” Lovely Varughese said.
She assumed it would be Bethune’s family but she was wrong.
Rather than sentencing Bethune, said journalist Dennis Murphy, the judge threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial. He ruled that the evidence had been sufficient to convict Bethune but the wording in the indictment might have confused the jurors. So, Bethune was a free man, for now.
“I was shocked, disgusted and felt that how can you trust the justice system anymore,” said Lovely Varughese. “A jury of 12 members found this man guilty and the judge just turned it around and threw it away.”
Lovely Varughese ended up settling her lawsuit against Bethune out of court, according to “Dateline.” But what she really wants, added the report, is an apology from him, something that she knows he’ll never give her.
“I miss hearing him call me Mommy. I miss hearing his footsteps...” Lovely Varughese said. “I believe it was Pravin’s spirit who brought us all this way. He wanted us to know what happened to him and who did this to him. And we got it. We know who did this to Pravin. That’s all I needed to know.”