Fourteen months after the suspicious death of her beloved son Pravin Varughese, Lovely Varughese still has no resolution.
“This is a disgrace to our judicial system,” said the Indian American mother, whose son’s body was found Feb. 18, 2014 in a wooded area in Carbondale, Ill. “I will not let this go until I take my last breath,” Varughese told India-West.
James Jacobi, a forensic pathologist in the Jackson County, Ill., coroner’s office determined that Varughese died of environmental hypothermia with no foul play involved. Various toxicology tests determined there was no alcohol or stimulants in Varughese’s body at the time of his death.
But the family hired an independent coroner, Ben Margolis, who noted bruises throughout Varughese’s body, and determined that Varughese, a 19-year-old student at Southern Illinois University, had died of blunt force trauma. Varughese, a criminal justice major who was in his sophomore year at SIU, had four blows to his head and face, according to Margolis’s examination of the corpse. He also had scratches and bruises on his arms and knees, noted Margolis. Varughese also had a deep slash on his right fore-arm to the bone: Margolis told the family this was a defense wound and that the young man was likely running for his life.
The family believes that Gaege Bethune, a fellow SIU student who gave Varughese a ride on the night of his death, could be a suspect in the case. Bethune’s DNA, and the DNA of an unidentified person, were found on Varughese’s corpse by Margolis.
But on Feb. 25, Jackson County State Attorney Michael Carr released a statement, saying no charges would be filed against Bethune. A grand jury – who had convened for six months from June to December, 2014 – determined Bethune to be not guilty on four different counts of first- and second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and concealment of homicidal death.
Carr has since recused himself from the case and turned it over to Jackson County special prosecutor Ed Parkinson. Parkinson did not return a call for comment.
The family has filed a $5 million lawsuit against Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer, former Carbondale police chief Jody O’Guinn, Illinois State Police trooper Chris Martin and Bethune. Varughese told India-West that Martin could potentially have saved her son, had he questioned Bethune correctly.
The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for May 20.
Bethune was arrested in July for drug possession, but released immediately after posting bail. On his Facebook page, Bethune – who uses a different moniker for social media – said he works for Dave’s Automotive Service in Bartonville, Illinois.
“Dave” answered a call from India-West and said he had never heard of Gaege Bethune, nor the moniker Bethune uses. Asked if he was the sole employee of the business, “Dave” responded: “That’s none of your business, but yes,” before abruptly hanging up.
In an earlier story, India-West reported several tweets on Bethune’s twitter feed, with alternated between xenophobia and suicidal ideations. A month before Varughese’s body was found, Bethune tweeted that he was holding a gun to his head. “Sorry homies, I can’t stay,” he said.
In a previous tweet, Bethune wrote: “hope I make it through the nite.”
In more recent posts, Bethune has tweeted: “Ain’t never too late to hustle sum weak ass niggas. Bustin niggas in the head$.”
Bethune had identified Varughese as a “black man” to law enforcement officials.
Varughese went missing on the night of Feb. 12, after attending a party. He had attended the party with his cousins, who parked at some distance from the party, then walked in to the celebration, according to Lovely Varughese.
According to police reports, Bethune, who was attending a party two blocks away, saw Varughese walking at about 11:30 that evening, and offered him a ride. An hour later, ISP trooper Martin saw Bethune’s vehicle parked by the side of the road with its hazard lights on.
According to the police report, Bethune told Martin that he had seen a “black man” walking on the street and offered him a ride. When the pedestrian got in the truck, Bethune told the trooper he showed the pedestrian his wallet with some cash in it and stated, “I can take you anywhere, however, I need some money for gas.” He then said the passenger jumped out of the car and fled away.
Varughese’s body was found Feb. 18, about 350 yards from where Bethune had stopped his truck.
“We don’t know why (Gaege) is being protected,” Varughese emotionally told India-West. “The police are saying there’s no reason for us to suspect him. But there is so much they are covering up.”