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Interview with attorney fighting for justice for the Varughese family.
By Raif Karerat
The case has raised numerous questions about the scruples of both the local police department and State’s Attorney Michael Carr, who recently convened a secret grand jury in order to acquit the primary suspect in Varughese’s alleged murder, Gaege Bethune, without any indication of which evidence, if any, was actually presented.
After months of controversy pertaining to false coroners’ reports, negligent police work, and an obstinate attitude from local authorities, the Varughese family still continues to press onward for justice for Pravin, who was only 19 when he tragically passed.
The Varughese family’s attorney Charles Stegmeyer spoke with The American Bazaar over the phone and elaborated on the finer details of the case and what the motivating factors have been so far.
What was your reaction when you found out State’s Attorney Andrew Carr had convened a secret grand jury?
Shocked and astonished. Blown away. Any other adjective I could use to express the unbelievable actions by the State’s Attorney.
What were the grounds that allowed the secret grand jury to be convened after there was evidence of a police cover-up?
One: grand juries are basically private affairs. That’s by law. Two: the State’s Attorney can present whomever they want to the grand jury. That means Carr could have just presented a police report and nothing else. However, because of the two diametrically opposed coroners’ reports, and in order to remain transparent, the [forensics] report from our doctor in Chicago should have been presented. We don’t know who or what he presented.
How did the Varughese family find out?
What happened was I got a phone call saying the grand jury had convened and had not found enough evidence to charge Bethune with murder. They then proceeded to announce a special prosecutor would be appointed to make an independent decision on whether Gaege Bethune should be charged with murder or some other offense, which is unprecedented in the criminal justice field. Because what he’s doing is asking for collateral evidence that the grand jury was right. He is in effect, now wanting a second opinion. Which raises some questions. Did someone from the Department of Justice pressure him into appointing a special prosecutor?
What have your interactions been like with the Carbondale Police and the Office of the State’s Attorney?
Uncooperative. I’ll give you an illustration. When the case was concluded, Pravin’s personal effects should have been returned to his family. I have postmortem pictures of Pravin which include his cell phone and his shirt. As we sit here today, none of my requests for those have been answered. Where is his cell phone? Where is the shirt he was wearing on the night this occurred? When the body was returned all he was wearing was underwear, a pair of blue jeans, one sock, and one shoe. Where are the rest of the items, who has them, and do they have them?
Do you believe any racial or cultural undertones have come into play?
Absolutely. The Department of Justice has assigned a number to this case, and in my opinion it should be for civil rights violations. In the initial report given by Bethune, he mentions to the state police officer that he was in an “altercation with a black man” and the “black man,” who was actually Pravin, “ran into the woods.” Upon having that information, on video, the state police officer did a cursory review of the scene, i.e. he flashed his light a couple of times, then he got in his squad car and left. Hypothetically, propose it was the white quarterback of the football team? What if it had been a white member of the baseball team, or the basketball team, or a white cheerleader. Wouldn’t the helicopters have been out that night, combing the woods, with backup from the Sheriff’s office? According to the second autopsy, Pravin lived another day before he died.
Do you believe the fact that Carbondale is a college town influenced the investigation?
Yes. Let me give you a different example. Last year, there were 65 complaints of sexual abuse. A number of them came from the college. Of the 65, Carr investigated five.
Lovely Varghuese told The American Bazaar that she would be asking the Illinois governor to launch a formal investigation into Andrew Carr’s handling of her son’s case. What happens now? What is the status of the investigation by the US Justice Department — are you able to speak about?
I can’t really say, a lot of it is confidential, so let’s leave it at that.
Fair enough. Is there any non-classified direction you’ll be taking that you’re able to talk about?
We intend to decide whether to appeal the grand jury’s decision. We also intend to vigorously try to intervene in the appointment of the special prosecutor to set guidelines that would ensure transparency by the special prosecutor.
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