“After three years and five months of pain and agony and sleepless nights, we slept good last night,” Varughese said, speaking to members of the press, after a Grand Jury indictment of a man, Gaege Bethune, 22, on murder charges.
Bethune is the man who the Varughese family believe is the culprit who snuffed out the life of the 19-year-old young man studying criminal justice at Southern Illinois University.
It’s not been easy for Lovely Varughese to find some succor, regardless of what the final verdict against Bethune will be. If convicted, he faces 20-60 years in prison.
The Indian American nurse, and her husband, Matthew Varughese, immigrants from Kerala, India, who carved out a new life in Morton Grove, Illinois, have had to fight terribly hard to get justice for their son, a track and field athlete, whose body was found in a wooded area of Carbondale, five days after he went missing after a late-night party near campus, the night of February 12, 2014.
Even as she and her family visited the grave of Pravin every single day, in Niles, Lovely Varughese refused to believe what the Carbondale Police Department and the city of Carbondale wanted them to believe, shut the case, move on: that Pravin died of hypothermia after he got lost, succumbed to injuries sustained in the woods and rough terrain after a night of heavy drinking, on a cold winter night.
Lovely always believed her son was murdered; it was a botched investigation, the police and the city of Carbondale did a cover-up, they didn’t care enough for the case, or worse.
She was right.
Lovely started her fight for justice after the funeral director where she went to see the body of her son, forced her to look at the body, pointed out severe injuries to his face.
Though the official autopsy ruled it an accidental death, a private autopsy the Varughese family later conducted determined Pravin had blunt-force trauma injuries to his face and head, had died of those blows.
Lovely stepped up her campaign for justice, voicing her suspicion of a botched investigation and lack of conviction by the Carbondale PD in going after a man who was prime suspect in the murder case, Gaege Bethune. She took to social media, implored elected representatives of her town and state to do the right thing, help nab the murderer of her son.
She publicized widely a 14-hour road trip she and her family members went on, to Washington, DC, to meet with elected legislators, make them aware of the wrong done to their son.
They met Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, among others. The Justice Department was watching the proceedings too. In an unusual move, it recommended the Varughese family to sue whomsoever they felt was responsible for a botched investigation.
“There’s a lot more to learn about this case and I want to help this dedicated family in making sure that we get to the bottom of this and that we get justice for their son,” Schakowsky had then told NBC, moved by the details of the case.
There was a domino effect: Lovely sued the Carbondale PD, the city of Carbondale, a state trooper who was witness to a strange activity that suggested foul play the night of Pravin’s murder, and Bethune.
Heads started to roll: the Carbondale PD Chief Jody O’Guinn was fired; the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s office took over the investigation after State Attorney Michael Carr – a man who all along had maintained that Pravin died of an accident – recused himself in 2015.
The hue and cry grew.
Lovely’s fight resonated widely, with people beginning to realize that perhaps rampant corruption lay at the heart of the matter: a memorial service held on the anniversary of Pravin’s death drew hundreds of people.
Lovely Varughese went to her son’s grave the day after the Grand Jury indictment, last week, and wept tears of joy.
“Yesterday, I was hoping to tell him good news,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “Today, I have good news.”
Bethune comes from a wealthy family: his father has now posted bail of $100,000, of the $1 million bond, enough to set him free till his case comes up for hearing.
The question to be asked is: what if Lovely Varughese had not had the temerity to fight back against a corrupt system? How many more Indian and other minority families in America have gone through the same ordeal? How many lives are now irredeemably shattered because of the wrong done to them, and the police and city have not cared?
It’s almost four months now since an Indian woman, Sasikala Narra, and her 6-year-old son, Anish Narra, were brutally stabbed to death in their home, in Maple Shade, New Jersey. The murderer stabbed the victims in the face. The FBI has since been called in. But there’s no word after that on the investigation. No suspects been named.
There are hundreds of Indian American organizations in the US. Perhaps, it’s time they took the example of Lovely Varughese, and fight hard for the community, on issues that really matter.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)