Pravin Varughese was born on July 29, 1994, in Evanston, Illinois as the child of hard-working Indian immigrants, Lovely Varughese and Mathew Varughese. The Varughese had a full family, with two daughters and Pravin as the middle child. His family has shared that he intended to pursue a career in law enforcement and that he “loved life, his family, and the world.” The Varughese family has also characterized Pravin as an outgoing, nice young man, and there were no indications that he had any enemies that would have harmed him. In 2014, Pravin was a 19-year-old student studying criminal justice as a sophomore at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL.
At 11:00 pm on Wednesday night, February 12, 2014, Pravin and his cousin attended two off-campus SIU parties on West College Street in Carbondale. Throughout the night, the pair get separated, and Pravin continued to party on his own. During the 11 o’clock hour, Pravin is active on Twitter, writing what seems to be thoughts about the party, posting at 11:06 pm: “99% of the time I have no idea whats [sic] going on.” Pravin then tweets that he believes he was in a fight, posting at 11:17 pm: “Bloody knuckles . . .guess i was in a fight #backdown”.
Roughly around 11:30 pm on February 12, Pravin and Gaege Bethunem, another SIU student, leave the party in Gaege’s black pickup truck. It’s unclear whether or not Pravin asked Gaege for a ride home, if Gaege offered Pravin a ride seeing that Pravin was alone, or if the pair had other plans altogether. To that end, investigators have been able to confirm that around 12:30 am, Gaege's truck was pulled over on the shoulder of Illinois Route 13. According to the police account of the incident, the Illinois state trooper saw the black truck and stopped to investigate. Gaege, already outside of the car, tells the officer he had been in a fight with another individual who was intoxicated, and that the other person had just ran off into the woods. Dashcam footage shows the state trooper spoke with Gaege for 10 minutes, did a light foot-search but turned up empty-handed, and left the scene without filing a report.
Simultaneously, at 12:29 am, Pravin calls a friend who later recounts the phone call with investigators sharing that it sounded like Pravin was running and out of breath, or had been in a physical altercation. She explained to police that she heard a man's voice with Pravin say "Give me that back" and Pravin responding with "I'm trying to help you!" several times. The friend further explained that she believed that she had heard Pravin call the other man "Greg" or "Mark" — and that Pravin said: "Don't hang up" and "Give me my pills back.” The call only lasted 1 minute and 58 seconds.
The following morning, on February 13, Pravin’s older sister Priya reports Pravin as missing. Local news stations quickly show photos of Pravin and report on his disappearance, and when Gaege tells his cousin that he recognizes Pravin’s photo as the person who he got in an altercation with five days earlier, Gaege’s cousin calls the Carbondale police and tells them where the fight took place. That same day, on February 17, Pravin’s body was found in the area where Gaege’s cousin told investigators to look.
At the end of February, the coroner determined that Pravin's cause of death was hypothermia, exacerbated by the fact that Pravin was wearing jeans and a shirt on the night temperatures almost hit zero degrees Fahrenheit. The coroner also noted that the abrasions and scratches found on his body were associated only with being found in a wooded area. The toxicology report also comes back negative for any drugs or alcohol. Immediately, the Varughese family and the funeral director didn’t agree with the results, adding that his bruising should be looked at as injuries.
Because of this, the Varughese family hires their own pathologist.
The second autopsy was completed in June of 2014 by Ben Margolis, the Director of the Autopsy Center of Chicago. He concludes that there are 22 injuries on Pravin's body, and that the underlying cause of death is "significant blunt force trauma to the head." The final report notes at least "three separate injuries" and a "defensive injury to the right arm." But, the report also says the immediate cause and the manner of death is undetermined pending further investigation.
With these conflicting findings, the Varughese family fights for two years with a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Carbondale, and another wrongful death lawsuit against the state trooper who was present on the scene the night of Pravin’s death.
Suddenly, following advocacy and additional investigation, Gaege is arrested on February 13, 2017, and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was ultimately held on a $1 million bond, but not for long, as Gaege paid his $100,000 bail and plead not guilty.
The trial against Gaege for Pravin’s murder begins on June 6, 2018. While on the stand, Gaege admits to lying to the state trooper when confronted that February night. He tries to rationalize the deceit by explaining that he had a cup of alcohol in the cup holder of the car — adding that he was afraid of getting a DUI charge. With that, Gaege also admits that he failed to inform police during his interviews with police that he picked up a woman on the way home to his house following the fight with Pravin.
On June 14, 2018, Gaege is found guilty in his jury trial of “first-degree murder with aggravated battery” in the murder of Pravin Varughese. However, the jury did not find Gaege guilty on the second charge, which is titled: “first-degree murder with an aggravated factor of robbery.” But, a Jackson County Judge vacates Gaege’s murder conviction three months later because of the wording used in the indictment, which he claimed: “could have been drafted with better words.” From here, the case is set for a retrial, though no date is set at this time.
The charges against Gaege were overturned in November of 2018, and Gaege is set free. Now, Pravin’s case is still considered unsolved, and the Varughese family continues to advocate for justice for Pravin’s untimely death.