Family Searches for Answers After SIU Student's Mysterious Death

Two years after Pravin Varughese’s body was found in the woods near Southern Illinois University, a special prosecutor is expected to release the findings of his investigation. But Varughese’s family said he’s missing key evidence

Two years ago, Pravin Varughese mysteriously disappeared downstate near Southern Illinois University. The 19-year-old college student’s body was found in the woods several days later.

Special prosecutor Patrick Delfino, appointed to review the circumstances behind Varughese’s death, is now expected to release the findings of his investigation. The Varughese family, though, claims Delfino is missing key evidence to get to the truth.

“That’s the moment my world ended,” said Lovely Varughese, the teen’s mother.

“We are still living the nightmare with a broken heart day by day,” adds her husband Mathew.

Varughese’s parents say they promise their son they’ll find the truth every time they visit his grave.

“When we hear what really happened that night, I think I can put all of this to rest and go on with our lives,” Lovely says.

Dr. James Michael Jacobi ruled Varughese’s death accidental, noting in his autopsy report “there was an absence of significant trauma.” Prosecutors say Varughese was intoxicated and got a ride from Gaege Bethune. The two got into a fight, according to prosecutors, and Varughese ran into the woods and froze to death.

Bethune told police he hit Varughese a few times in self-defense and Varughese took off when an Illinois state trooper stopped to investigate the truck parked on the side of the road. The family says Bethune was bigger than their son and they believe Bethune severely beat him.

The bruises clearly visible on Varughese’s forehead led the family to hire Dr. Ben Margolis to conduct a second autopsy. Margolis said his autopsy found the underlying cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Margolis’s report is now in the hands of the special prosecutor but says the prosecutor has not subpoenaed the tissue samples to see the severity of the wounds or even called him with questions.

Ron Safer, a former federal prosecutor, says with conflicting autopsies it’s important to speak with both doctors.

“When you don’t have eye witnesses, you are desperate to learn first-hand from the people who have some facts,” Safer said. “The body has clues in it, but you have to be willing to look at those clues objectively.”

Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr decided not to file criminal charges, but the family has filed a civil lawsuit blaming Bethune for the death of their son.

“If I don’t fight for him, who would? I won’t give up,” Lovely said.

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