JACKSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - A day after a Jackson County, Illinois man was found guilty of murder in the death of Southern Illinois University student Pravin Varughese, the student's mother is speaking out.
"I am so thankful we got this for him so he can rest in peace and we can live with his beautiful memories," Lovely Varughese said.
She's been an outspoken advocate for her son since his death in 2014. Now, she finds comfort in knowing her family's long legal battle is over.
"I was completely peaceful, I did not cry," she said. "I was not nervous, nothing."
Lovely Varughese was grateful for the closure that came with Thursday's guilty verdict.
"I don't wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy," she said.
It's been a long four years for the entire Varughese family.
"I did not know I had the strength in, trust me, I did not," she said. "But it took this tragedy, but here we are..."
The mother of three said getting to this day was not easy.
"A lot of times I told him, I just want to end this and go and bury myself somewhere," Lovely said. "Because I just could not take it anymore and I did not know where I was going, but again then I hear a little voice from inside...'mommy....' that kept me going."
That "little voice" being her son, Pravin. She said she wants to be his legacy.
"He's a son, a brother, a grandson to so many people here," Lovely said. "I know that. That's what I want to remember him as...Energetic boy who loved life. Who loved his family. Who loved God. That's how I want to remember him."
The Varughese family waited patiently for the verdict to come down but she said seeing and hearing her son's killer on the stand meant most to her.
"Gaege on the stand saying, 'I hit him,' I wanted to hear that," she said. "I think that meant to me more than the verdict."
Lovely Varughese is now headed back to Chicago to spend time with her family, where she said the real healing can begin.
Bethune found guilty
Gaege Bethune was found guilty on Thursday, June 14 on one count in the murder investigation of Pravin Varughese.
The jury found Bethune guilty of first-degree murder predicated on aggravated battery and not guilty of first-degree murder predicated on robbery after seven hours of deliberation.
He faces anywhere from 20 to 60 years in prison.
The jurors heard closing arguments at 9 a.m. By around 3:15 p.m., the jury started deliberating the fate of Gaege Bethune. The verdict was handed down at 10:30 p.m.
In the courtroom, all was quiet before the verdict was announced. Bethune leaned over to speak to his lawyer before putting his head in his hands with to cry.
There were 10 women and two men on this Jackson County jury. It's important to note their verdict had to be unanimous before presenting it to the judge.
Bethune was immediately taken into custody.
His attorney said it would take 60-90 days before the sentencing hearing takes place.
Wepsiec released the following statement on Friday, June 15:
He said they are likely to appeal.
Wednesday, June 13
The defense and prosecution have rested their case in the murder trial of 23-year-old Gaege Bethune.
The Jackson County man is accused of causing the 2014 death of Southern Illinois University student Pravin Varughese during the commission of a forcible felony.
On Wednesday, Bethune took the stand for the second day, spending roughly four hours on the stand.
Michael Wepsiec, Bethune's attorney, told the jury his client's action did not cause Varughese to go into the woods where he later died of hypothermia.
Bethune testified in his own defense saying he was "scared for his life", and he got in "one good hit" above Varughese's right eye as the two men scuffled that night. He then heard Varughese take off into the woods, Bethune says.
David Robinson, the Special Prosecutor, continued to paint Bethune as a liar. Robinson suggested Bethune lied to get out of trouble with police on February 12-13, 2014, the night of Varughese's disappearance. Robinson also suggested Bethune would lie now to get himself out of much more serious trouble.
The defense brought Illinois State Police Trooper Christopher Martin as his final witness asking about him, "Do you think Varughese would still be alive if you investigated?" The Trooper responded, "I'm not sure."
Tuesday, June 12
Bethune took the stand on Tuesday in his own defense.
He told the jury he may have punched the victim and lied to police, but he's no killer.
Bethune said the night of February 12, 2014 after the encounter with Varughese, he "heard" Varughese take off into the woods, but he did not "see" him.
Bethune admittedly lied to police that night, he said, "because I was scared and didn't know what to do. I was only 19."
He went on to tell the jury he's a father of a three-year-old girl and a self-employed construction worker.
Special Prosecution David Robinson hammered at Bethune repeatedly during cross-examination, poking holes in his statement to the police, questioning his story and calling him a liar.
When Bethune took the stand he was the eleventh witness for the defense.
Bethune's demeanor in court was soft-spoken and polite. He seemingly paid close attention to the jury as he testified.
Monday, June 11
Monday's testimony centered around the second autopsy that was done on Pravin Varughese. The prosecution remained on the stand late into the afternoon.
Thursday, June 7
On Thursday morning the trial finished out cross-examination of Gaege Bethune's cousin. The next witness interviewed was an Illinois State Police trooper.
Dash cam video was shown from the night Pravin Varughese died. It showed Bethune coming out of the woods and telling the trooper he had picked up a "black male hitchhiker."
The trooper reportedly saw several bills on the floorboard but said they "never saw anyone in the ditch."
Bethune reportedly indicated "the passenger had punched him in the face," which is considered aggravated battery. However, the trooper did not report it until 11 days later. He also didn't call it on the radio.
The trooper told the court Bethune's story was questionable and he did, in fact, feel he was lying. He said he did see red marks on Bethune's face, which he agreed would be consistent with the cold weather or him being hit in the face.
Another video was also played in court. This one showed Carbondale police interviewing Bethune in the days following Varughese's disappearance.
That police interview showed Bethune admitting he got in a fight with Pravin Varughese the night Varughese went missing. Bethune told police that he hit Varughese at least one good time to the face with a closed fist.
However, Bethune also told officers he feared for his life.
Bethune's attorney questioned why Illinois State Police did not report that dash cam stop until 11 days after the video.
Wednesday, June 6
The prosecution called the mother of Varughese back to the stand, along with Dr. Justin Schoof, SIU Professor and Chair of the Geography and Environmental Resources. He offered context to the temperatures that night of Varughese's death, calling it an "unusually cold period."
Next Prosecution brought Bethune's cousin, Jonathan Stanley, to the stand for direct examination. They ran through his recollection of that night of Varughese's death, his statements to Carbondale Police Department on Feb. 17, 2014 and even the multiple Facebook private messages to Varughese's mother and family just a week after Varughese's death.
One of Stanley's statements contradicted what was a part of the evidential record. Stanley did receive "about $200" for coming forward to Carbondale police. In regards to the messages to Varughese's family on Facebook, Stanley said he sent it to alert the family about the state cop involved.
Tuesday, June 5
The trial for Gaege Bethune was delayed on Tuesday, June 5 to find additional alternate jurors. A judge granted a motion to delay opening statements after one juror was recused. The court was in recess for the rest of the day, June 5.
Monday, June 4
The jury selection for the trial started on Monday, June 4. Opening statements began with the Special Prosecutor David Robinson stating Pravin Varughese hyperthermic death, "while not a direct result of the aggravated battery," was a natural and foreseeable consequence of Gaege Bethune's actions.
The prosecution made three points, Gaege Bethune did commit an offense; Pravin Varughese was beaten and robbed; and Pravin Varughese death was set in motion by those punches and not just hypothermia.
In addition, Defense Attorney Michael Wepsiec called Varughese death from hypothermia accidental. Wepsiec affirmed Bethune and Varughese did, in fact, get in a fight, however, he said there is no evidence to show Bethune did anything to cause his death. "The manner of death is hypothermia, nothing more, nothing less," Wepsiec said.
The trial continued with the testimony and questioning of Varughese's mother, Lovely Varughese. The prosecution presented her with autopsy photographs, Lovely became overwhelmed with emotion. The witness directed testimony was interrupted by Wepsiec objection. There were issues with the evidence, Wepsiec calling it "obscene and inappropriate." The judge called for a recess for lunch.
Background on the case
Bethune, from Eldorado, Illinois, is facing a murder charge in the death of Varughese.
Bethune's attorney filed a motion on Jan. 11 to move the trial to another county. He was in court for a motion for a change of venue on Feb. 15.
He was indicted on two counts of felony first-degree murder on July 13, 2017, after a grand jury evaluated potential charges in the case. He pleaded not guilty.
The charges come more than three years after the death of Varughese.
According to the Grand Jury Indictment, Bethune punched Varughese multiple times in the head and face. The indictment says that "Varughese's hypothermic death, while not a direct result of the aggravated battery, was a natural and foreseeable consequence of that independent felonious conduct."
Varughese's body was found after an extensive search in a wooded area outside of Carbondale in February 2014. Police said he jumped from a truck he was riding in and ran into the woods where he was later found dead.
Bethune was believed to be the last person to see Varughese alive. He gave him a ride after a party the night Varughese went missing.