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CHICAGO (AP) — A man has been indicted on first-degree murder charges in the 2014 death of a Southern Illinois University student, according to court records available online Friday — three years after the victim's mother challenged original findings that her son died accidentally from exposure to the cold.
Gaege Bethune, 22, from Eldorado, Illinois, 50 miles east of the Carbondale-based university, is charged with two counts of murder in the death of 19-year-old Pravin Varughese. His body was found in a wooded area off campus about a week after he went missing.
Varughese's mother, Lovely Varughese, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that she felt mixed emotions when a prosecutor called with news that a grand jury had returned an indictment.
"There was such a sigh of relief — and also screaming and crying," she said.
Bethune, who turned himself in Thursday, is being held on $1 million bail. His arraignment is July 18. Court records didn't include the name of a defense attorney.
Bethune was questioned in 2014 after saying he offered the SIU student a lift around the time he disappeared and the two fought, a state's attorney's report released in 2015 said. It said the evidence supported that Varughese had been drinking and died of hypothermia after getting out of Bethune's car and that he may have been intoxicated.
The indictment was returned Thursday and remained sealed Friday, but the charges were listed online. A brief statement from a special prosecutor also provided no details, including about any new evidence that might support the contention that Bethune, and not the mid-February cold, had been responsible for Varughese's death.
Varughese's mom, a nurse from Morton Grove, challenged the state's attorney's findings from the start, saying a private autopsy discovered multiple, severe wounds on her son's head and face. There were no traces of significant alcohol in his blood, she said.
"I know his strong will," she said. "If he could have crawled out of there, he would have. ... I have no doubt he was not in a position to use his phone or call for help."
The Illinois Office of the State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor's office took over the investigation after State's Attorney Michael Carr recused himself in 2015.
Varughese said she won't worry over whether Bethune is eventually convicted, saying she only ever wanted someone to answer for her son's death in court.
"If the jury decides to let him go, that's fine," she said. "Whatever comes next doesn't really matter."
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