On a winter night in February 2014, Pravin Varughese, a sophomore at Southern Illinois University, attended a house party. Little did anyone know that it would be the last time anyone saw him alive. A few days later, Pravin’s lifeless body was discovered in a wooded area in Carbondale, Illinois, sending shockwaves through the community, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
From Accident to Foul Play:
Initially deemed accidental hypothermia by the police, a turn of events unfolded after an independent autopsy, ordered by the Varughese family, revealed blunt force trauma to Pravin’s head. Soon, news surfaced about an altercation between Pravin and a fellow student named Gaege Bethune on the night of his death. Subsequently, Bethune was arrested and charged with Pravin’s murder, leading to a two-week trial in 2018 where the jury convicted Bethune of first-degree murder.
A Shocking Twist: The Power of a Comma:
While a conviction typically results in a significant prison sentence, Bethune experienced an unexpected turn of events. In June 2018, he walked free, and the reason behind it was surprisingly simple – a comma. Instead of issuing a sentence, the judge identified a problem with the wording on the charging document, particularly an omitted comma. The judge believed this small punctuation error could have confused the jury, leading him to dismiss the jury’s verdict and throw the case out of court, allowing Bethune to leave without serving any time for murder.
Unveiling the Syntax Error Drama:
Pravin’s mother, Lovely Varughese, shared her bewilderment during the day of the supposed sentencing. She described how Bethune entered the court in casual clothes with no restraints. The judge acknowledged the flawless trial, highlighting no misconduct or prosecutorial errors and sufficient evidence for the conviction. However, the presence of a syntax error, particularly the omitted comma, raised doubts about the jury’s clarity. Consequently, the judge decided to vacate the jury verdict, order a new trial, and set the defendant, Bethune, free.
A Family’s Ongoing Battle for Justice:
Despite this setback, the Varughese family continues their fight for justice. Lovely Varughese holds onto hope that Gaege Bethune will face trial once more for her son’s murder. In her words to the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I’m hoping for the sanity of the justice system it will happen one day. People have to have faith in the system, and they have to have hope.” The family’s perseverance sheds light on the complexities within the legal system and the unf