Bethune pleads not guilty to the murder of Pravin Varughese


Daily Egyptian file photo

Gaege Bethune walks into the Jackson County Courthouse before being charged on two counts of first-degree murder for the death of former SIU student Pravin Varughese, Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Murphysboro. Bethune pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder during the arraignment. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

By Cory Ray

Gaege Bethune pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder of SIU student Pravin Varughese on Tuesday.

Bethune appeared at the Jackson County Courthouse in Murphysboro for his arraignment in the murder case for SIU student, Pravin Varughese.

He was held under two charges, one count in aggravated battery and the other in the robbery of Varughese, according to Judge William Schwartz. Bethune waived a formal hearing.


Michael Wepsiec, Bethune’s attorney, said he is filing for a change of venue because he believes there exists a problem with bringing in a local jury in a case that has been so highly publicized in the region.

The arraignment was especially emotional for Varughese’s mother, Lovely Varughese, who said this was the first time she had met Bethune in person.

“I dreamed of that moment, seeing [Bethune] face to face one day,” she said, “and I never thought that day would come.”

While it was a moment three and a half years in the making, Lovely Varughese said when it finally came, it was difficult to face.

“I was okay until we passed SIU campus,” Lovely Varughese said, as she and her family traveled from their Chicago home for the hearing. “After that, my stomach kind of started to … I was gasping for breath sitting there.”

Varughese’s body was found in a “densely wooded area” more than 400 yards south of Illinois Route 13, Feb. 18, 2014, five days after he was reported missing, according to law enforcement.

In the original autopsy, Varughese’s cause of death was listed as hypothermia; however, the student’s family was not satisfied with that result as his face was bruised in two places and a scar ran along his nose.


The family ordered a second autopsy to be performed, which listed his cause of death hypothermia because of sustained injuries.

Bethune is believed to be the last person to see Varughese alive on the night of Feb. 13, 2014.

In footage of a police interview of Bethune, he admitted to striking Varughese in the face the night Varughese died.

“I got a good look at him,” Lovely Varughese said after the hearing. “I kept on looking at his hand… [He] hit my baby with that hand.”

Bethune was indicted by Special Prosecutor David Robinson on Thursday. He turned himself in the same day.

“That was the first night that we slept with some kind of peace in a long time,” Lovely Varughese said.

On Friday, Bethune’s bond was paid at $100,000.

Bethune’s bond provisions state he is not to leave Illinois without special court approval nor is he able to have any contact with the Varughese family.

“I think he’s very confident in his innocence,” Bethune’s attorney Wepsiec said. “We’re resolute to see this thing to the end.”

Robinson said the arraignment was nothing “out of the ordinary.”

“As with any family that experiences something like this, it’s difficult,” Robinson said. “I think they’ve been very patient, very fair.”

The arraignment lasted about ten minutes.

During the hearing, the courtroom quickly filled capacity and became loud enough that the judge ordered the doors be closed, claiming he could “not hear himself think.”

Wepsiec and Robinson will meet with Alexander County Judge Mark Clarke Wednesday, where it will be decided when Bethune will next appear in court.

The Varughese’s said they will continue to travel to any and all court hearings.

“Whatever the jury decides, we will accept,” Lovely Varughese  said.

As of Thursday, Lovely Varughese said her “part of the fight” is finished and is now being passed on to the law.

Editor-in-Chief Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_de.

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