Gaege Bethune, left, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pravin Varughese. (Jackson County sheriff’s office, Family photo)
More than three years after the mysterious death of a Morton Grove man away at Southern Illinois University, details have emerged in what prosecutors say happened that cold February night in downstate Illinois.
An indictment issued last week in Jackson County said that 19-year-old Pravin Varughese died of hypothermia after being beaten and robbed.
Gaege Bethune, 22, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in Varughese’s death. Bethune is a resident of Eldorado, about 50 miles east of Carbondale in southern Illinois, though SIU officials have said he is not and has never been a student there.
Varughese’s eventual death from hypothermia, the indictment charges, was a "natural and foreseeable consequence" of the beating and robbery.
Indicting documents said that Bethune admitted to authorities that he inflicted "multiple punches to the head and face, rendering (Varughese) ‘dead weight.’"
After Varughese’s death, his family and friends fought for more investigation on the case, refusing to accept the explanation that he simply wandered off into the woods and died. Varughese’s family commissioned a private autopsy that found signs of blunt force trauma, and they said social media posts and phone calls he made that night indicated he might have been attacked or in a fight.
A special prosecutor was eventually assigned to the case, and Lovely Varughese, Pravin Varughese’s mother, credited that move with the recent developments.
According to the indictment, Varughese’s injuries included "forehead contusions/impressions and injuries to the nose consistent with blunt force trauma."
"It was a day we had waited for for so long," Varughese’s mother said last week of charges being filed in her son’s death. "We feel like his voice is heard and he’s happy today."
Bethune, who was released on bond last week, could not be reached for comment. But his father, Don Bethune, told the Tribune last week that his son will fight the charges and that they have retained a lawyer for his defense. He described his son as a hardworking father.
Varughese was a former track and cross-country runner attending school at SIU that February in 2014, when he attended a party near campus.
Later that night, a state trooper reported seeing a man with a red mark on his cheek stopped by the side of the road near where Varughese’s body would be found. The man told the trooper a story of offering someone a ride, only to be attacked when he asked for gas money, the report said.
The trooper scanned the area, he said, and then left. Varughese was found dead in a nearby wooded area five days later.
If convicted of both counts, Bethune faces a potential sentence of 20-60 years in prison, according to the indictment.
Bethune is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, said Deputy Craig Harju with the Jackson County sheriff’s office.