Four years after Pravin Varughese’s death, the man he had an altercation with that night, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a unanimous jury verdict June 14, in Carbondale, Illinois.
The jury deliberated for seven hours to reach the verdict, the Chicago Tribune reported, in the trial that took place after Pravin’s mother and family relentlessly pursued the case to prove her son’s death was at the hands of the man who earlier lied about what happened during his interaction with her 19-year old son on that fateful cold night in 2014.
The 19-year old was found dead in the woods five days after being reported missing. On the night he went missing, a policeman had stopped Bethune and examined his car and been told by Bethune that he had an altercation with a friend who fled into the woods. When Varughese’ body was found, the initial examination said he died from hypothermia after suffering a fall as he ran though the woods. However, his family, represented in the media mostly by his mother Lovely Varughese, persisted with their own investigation into the son’s death, refusing to accept the Cpolice department’s understanding.
Their independent autopsy report showed blunt force trauma as the cause of death, and photos of Varughese’ showed signs of being hit on the forehead. She persisted with her demand for reopening the case of the Southern Illinois University student.
On June 14, the jury came out with a guilty verdict to first-degree murder charges against Bethune, a resident of The Eldorado, Ill..
“Pravin’s day finally came. He can rest in peace now,” his mother, Lovely Varughese, told the Chicago Tribune. The family had been at the two-week trial in Carbondale listening to the defendant’s attorney characterizing their son in a negative light, unsuccessfully, as it turns out. Bethune, who had been out on bail over the last so many years, was immediately taken to jail, where according to news reports, he faces 20-60 years.
Lovely Varughese told the Tribune that Bethune’s attorney, Michael Wepsiec, kept trying to tell the jury that the family of the young Indian-American student was supposed to accept the findings of law enforcement authorities. “I’m like, no, my son’s name has to be proven,” Lovely Varughese told the paper. She told India West that she and her family had to endure listening to the defendant’s side characterize her son as a drug dealer a thug, an alcoholic, etc. even to the extent of describing him as an Islamic State supporter. In one instance during the trial Wepsiec took a poster from Pravin’s room to prove the latter. “That poster was for a school project. The defense went that low,” Lovely Varughese told India West.
The trial and judgment is not the end of the story, as Wepsiec is quoted saying in the Tribune that he is going to ask for a new trial insisting that Pravin Varughese’ injuries should not be seen as a murder.
“We’re certainly going to file a motion for a new trial and see what we can do with that,” he is quoted saying in the Tribune, adding, “Right now I think we’re all in shock at the verdict of guilty on the felony murder based on the aggravated battery. The evidence does not support that.”
But the prosecutor in the case, David Robinson said the verdict was just and that the jury came to the result after careful deliberation.
“The fact of the matter is it’s not a good situation for anyone. I don’t think anybody’s happy. Two families have experienced a loss here,” Robinson is quoted saying in the Tribune. According to Robinson’s case, both the youth were under the influence when the incident happened and they fought and Bethune not only beat up Varughese, but also robbed him, and after that the Indian-American teen walked into the woods in a dazed condition, and even tweeted out a message relating to the altercation and having bloody knuckles.
The Tribune called the first-degree murder verdict “a stunning reversal” from the earlier view held by the authorities that there was no foul play and that it was hypothermia that killed the young man and ended his promising future.
Many supporters of the Varughese family attended court during the trial, and Lovely Varughese said it was a source of solace. “The amount of people that came into the courtroom every day to support us was … unbelievable,” she is quoted saying in the Tribune.