Murder trial continues for man accused of killing SIU student

Murder trial continues for man accused of killing SIU student
Published: Jul. 14, 2017 at 12:45 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2018 at 12:41 PM CDT
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The body of Pravin Varughese was found in a wooded area on the outskirts of Carbondale in...
The body of Pravin Varughese was found in a wooded area on the outskirts of Carbondale in February 2014. (Source: Family of Pravin Varughese)
The murder trial continued on Monday, June 11. (Source: Brittany Jacob/KFVS)
The murder trial continued on Monday, June 11. (Source: Brittany Jacob/KFVS)

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - An Eldorado, Illinois man facing a murder charge in the death of SIU student Pravin Varughese was in court on Monday, June 11.

Monday's testimony centered around the second autopsy that was done on Pravin Varughese.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, the prosecution was still on the stand.

On Thursday morning, June 7, 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.

The trial for Gaege Bethune was delayed Tuesday, June 5 to find additional alternate jurors. A judge granted a motion to delay opening statements after one juror was recused. Court was in recess for the rest of the day, June 5.

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Background on the case

Gaege Bethune's final pre-trial was scheduled for May 23 and his jury trial was scheduled for June 4 but was pushed back.

A prayer memorial was also planned for the morning before the court hearing on Friday, February 16.

A memorial scholarship was awarded to two students at the Ohio Room in the SIU Student Centre.

Bethune's attorney filed a motion on Jan. 11 to move the trial to another county.

Lovely Varughese sat in on court proceedings on Nov. 13, 2017. During that proceeding, the lead detective in the case testified and several pieces of evidence were presented, like videotaped statements and Tweets allegedly sent by Gaege Bethune.

"It's kind of hard for me sitting there, watching him rocking in the chair and all," Lovely Varughese, Mother of Pravin. "It just gives me like um, it's hard."

Over a dozen of her family members traveled from Chicago to be present. Lovely Varughese plans to be at all of the hearings until the trial.

Lovely Varughese spoke to us right outside the court.

"Once the argument started I was getting a clear picture of what I am in for.. you know this is going to be a game in court, back and forth," Varughese said. "So, I have to prepare my mind that I'm here for a long run. This is a marathon."

Bethune, 22, 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."

Bethune voluntarily turned himself in at the Jackson County Jail on July 13. He was being held in the Jackson County Jail on $1 million bond.

On Friday morning, July 14, 2017, he posted bond and walked shoulder-to-shoulder with his dad and lawyer to a car, then went straight to his lawyer's office.

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.

The Jackson County coroner determined from an autopsy that Varughese died from hypothermia. At the time, police said foul play was not suspected in his death.

In 2015, the Jackson County State's Attorney released a full report on Varughese's death investigation. You can click here to read the details.

Lovely Varughese, Pravin's mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Illinois State Police and an ISP trooper.

The family also had a second autopsy performed in Chicago.

According to Lovely Varughese, the results showed the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to his head. She said he also had a number of other injuries to his body, including a large injury to his right arm.

The Circuit Court of Jackson County appointed the Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor to review the circumstances surrounding the February 2014 death of Pravin Varughese following a request from Jackson County State's Attorney Michael Carr.

OSAAP was tasked with determining, in accordance with the duties of a public prosecutor, whether sufficient evidence existed to seek an indictment, specifically, "the potential offense of homicide."

Carbondale Police Sergeant Amber Ronketto has been working the case since the beginning. She said this particular case and working with a special prosecutor was a new experience for the Carbondale Police Department.

"We can't really tell any details at this point other than the grand jury came with the indictment yesterday," she said. "Gaege Bethune turned himself in last night to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and he has since posted bond. Pretty much, it's a waiting game at this point to see when and where the trial date will be set."

Detectives continue to work with the special prosecutor and will testify in court if asked.

Bethune's attorney, Michael Wepsiec, issued a statement regarding the case. He said that numerous posts on social media challenged the conclusion of the grand jury and the performance of the State's Attorney.

Wepsiec said that Bethune intends to fight the charges against him.

"Gaege, with the support of his family and friends, intends to fight these charges to the bitter end in a court of law, not the court of public opinion," he said.

In a release, Wepsiec wrote:

"Much has been posted on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media by persons who think they know what happened. Almost all of these posts have been based upon speculation, rumor, gossip and other insidious innuendo. Many of these posts find their origin in the public pronouncements of a self-styled activist who has befriended the Varughese family. Instead of providing sincere comfort and sympathy, this self-appointed advocate has fanned the embers of the Varughese family's grief with her wild accusations."

You can read the full release from Wepsiec below.

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