Testimony begins in Bethune murder trial - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Testimony begins in Bethune murder trial

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MURPHYSBORO, Ill. -- A tense first day of testimony in Gaege Bethune’s murder trial.

He’s the man charged with murdering SIU student Pravin Varughese in February 2014.  

After some issues with a juror Tuesday, it only took a couple hours for the court to pick a two alternate jurors.

Opening statements followed, where attorneys on both sides offered different pictures of the night Varughese went missing.

Special Prosecutor David Robinson described a night when Varughese and Bethune both went looking for cocaine after a party, but then got into a fight when they couldn’t track any down.

Robinson said Bethune was the aggressor and tried to rob Varughese before leaving him on the side of Route 13.  

"[Bethune] left him alone to die," Robinson said.

Bethune’s attorney, Mike Wepsiec, denied the claim. He said hypothermia killed Varughese.

"Hypothermia was the only only cause of death in this case," Wepsiec said. "And Gaege Bethune had nothing to do with causing it.”

Wepsiec acknowledged Bethune hit Varughese, but only after Varughese tried to punch him first.

Varughese’s mother, Lovely, took the stand afterward.

She teared up as the prosecutor showed her photos of her son, including autopsy photos.

But Wepsiec objected to other autopsy photos the prosecutor was trying to admit into evidence.  

Judge Mark Clarke excused the jury and criticized both attorneys for not solving their issues before the trial.

"(This is) basic, fundamental stuff that should have been done by now," Clarke said.

They came back from lunch, resolved their issues with the evidence and continued with Lovely’s testimony.

She explained why she sought a second opinion, on the advice of the funeral home director, and about messages she received from Bethune’s cousin, Jonathan Stanley.

After testimony from a climatologist about the conditions that night, Stanley testified.

He said Bethune told him what happened: that he gave someone a ride home and that person tried to rob Bethune.

Stanley later saw coverage of Varughese’s disappearance on the news and then went to police after some advice from relatives that.

“(They said) it might not be too late to save someone’s life," Stanley said.

Stanley also explained he tried to inform everyone he knew about the Illinois State Police trooper’s presence that night, including the victim’s mother.

Stanley’s testimony is expected to continue Thursday.

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