Judge vacates Gaege Bethune's murder conviction - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Judge vacates Gaege Bethune's murder conviction

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Gaege Bethune makes his first court appearance in Jackson County Gaege Bethune makes his first court appearance in Jackson County

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 17 AT 8:52 P.M.

MURPHYSBORO, Ill. -- A Jackson County Judge has vacated Gaege Bethune's murder conviction in the death of SIU student Pravin Varughese. 

Bethune was convicted of first-degree murder in June for reportedly punching Varughese in 2014 and leaving him with injuries that led to his death.

Bethune was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, but following a motion by his newly hired attorney, Judge Mark Clarke threw out the verdict because of what was described as a legal technicality that came down to one word.

In the indictment, the charge of aggravated battery says Bethune "knowingly made physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature," but under Illinois law, a person has to knowingly cause great bodily harm, which Bethune's lawyer argues the prosecution cannot prove.

Bethune's new attorney, Steven Greenberg, argued the the wording in the indictment didn't put the burden of proof on the state and could have confused the jury. 

"We have someone who we feel did not commit first degree murder, should not have been found guilty, and now we're going to get a chance to redo the trial, we're going to get a chance to get it right," Greenberg said after the judge struck down the verdict.

Before handing down his ruling, the judge said there was enough evidence for the conviction, but threw out the verdict to ensure Bethune received a fair trial.

David Robinson, the special prosecutor in the case said he accepts the judge's decision, calling it a matter of syntax. He says he's confident a guilty verdict will be handed down in a retrial. 

"There's never a question in my mind that we proved the defendant guilty without a doubt and we're absolutely going to retry this case and I have full confidence the jury will return the same verdict," Robinson said. 

Pravin's mother, Lovely, says she thought the case was coming to a close and they could move on, but says she trusts the justice system.

"He was responsible for Pravin's death," Varughese said. "That's all that matters to me, and whether he wants to take the responsibility or not, it's up to him."

Still, Greenberg says the charge of first-degree murder is unwarranted and inappropriate in an incident he says was a fist-fight.

"This is not a first-degree murder case by any stretch and if it ever stands as a first-degree murder case, God help us all," Greenberg said.

The case is now set for a retrial, but the date of that trial is not yet determined. 

In the initial trial, which lasted two weeks, autopsies showed Varughese's cause of death was hypothermia, but the prosecution in the case argued Bethune was responsible for Varughese's death. Varughese died after he ran into the woods following a fight between the two. Prosecutors say Varughese wandered around in the woods and died that night when temperatures reached single digits. 

The prosecution argued during the fight Bethune gave Varughese a concussion, and the effects of the injury led to his death. During the hearing Monday Greenberg argued that the prosecution failed to provide any evidence that Varughese had a concussion or, if he did, that Bethune caused it.

Greenberg says when the case is retried he's confident it will end with a different verdict. 

ORIGINAL STORY SEPTEMBER 17 AT 12:41 P.M.

MURPHYSBORO, Ill. -- A Jackson County Judge has vacated Gaege Bethune's murder conviction in the death of SIU student Pravin Varughese. 

Bethune was convicted of first-degree murder in June for reportedly punching Varughese in 2014 and leaving him with injuries that led to his hypothermia death.

The judge made the decision Monday, saying wording in the indictment could have confused jurors.

Before announcing his ruling, the judge said the prosecution did present sufficient evidence for the conviction and there was no misconduct on anyone's part, but there was the possibility the jury could have been swayed by the wording.

The case is set for a retrial but no date has been set.

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