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Carr: Statement coming in Varughese case

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

CARBONDALE — An official explanation of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and death of an SIU student last year likely is on the way, just as his family and friends prepare to commemorate the somber one-year anniversary of his passing.

In a letter sent last week, Jackson County Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Brenner tells the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau that local authorities are preparing a statement regarding the death of 19-year-old Pravin Varughese in February 2014.

The letter, obtained by the Times, is part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act dispute between Charles Stegmeyer, the attorney representing Varughese’s family in a civil lawsuit, and Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Carr.

“This is a highly public case pertaining to an unfortunate death of a young SIU student,” the letter reads. “There continues to be a law enforcement investigation … The family has made numerous public statements offering various other persons and theories that may shed light on the loss of their son. Each one of those, my office has taken seriously and pushed for additional investigation.

“My office has spent the past several weeks preparing a written statement which we believe will satisfy the requestor, the family and the public in this tragic case.”

 

When contacted last week by the Times, Carr declined to discuss any aspect of the Varughese case.

At the same time, Varughese’s family is planning a press conference and memorial event for 11:30 a.m. Friday — the one-year anniversary of Varughese’s death — at the V.F.W. in Murphysboro. State Rep. Terri Bryant is scheduled to speak, and the family of Molly Young also will participate.

Varughese’s mother, Lovely, reflected on the loss of her son Tuesday, which marked a year since she last saw him at her family’s Morton Grove home.

“Today is exactly a year that we saw our Pravin last and said good bye,” Lovely Varughese wrote Tuesday. “We had a good talk and laugh Feb. 9. He was talking about girls and marriage and when daddy asked if he has a girlfriend he said, “No daddy, I am a free single man,” and ran up to his room as usual. Why he decided to stay an extra day? I am sure God planned that extra time.”

Varughese subsequently returned to Carbondale, where he was studying criminal justice at SIU. Days later, he disappeared in an episode still fraught with uncertainty.

Varughese was reported as having last been seen around 11 p.m. Feb. 12 at a house party on West College Street in Carbondale, where he apparently hitched a ride with a new acquaintance, Gaege Bethune. However, a fight reportedly ensued between the two, and police say Varughese abruptly exited the vehicle and fled into a wooded area on Carbondale’s east side. Authorities found his body five days later.

Although local police cited hypothermia as the preliminary cause of death, the Varughese family obtained an independent autopsy from Ben Margolis of the Autopsy Center of Chicago. That second examination cited bruising on Varughese’s head and forearm that Margolis concluded were the results of blunt force trauma.

Last fall, the Varughese family filed a five-count civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death against Bethune, the last person to see Varughese alive, and negligence on the part of Carbondale’s former police chief and the city of Carbondale.

The lawsuit accuses the driver, Bethune, of contributing to Varughese’s death by allegedly hitting him in the head with a blunt force instrument. Much of the lawsuit centers squarely on former Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn.

Other counts of the lawsuit focus on the city of Carbondale, which the Varughese family contends is liable for the actions of O’Guinn. The suit also alleges the city failed to institute adequate standards for searching for missing persons.

Last month, the Varughese family also added Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer to the lawsuit, alleging he committed a "willful and wanton breach of duty" by failing to "make a complete and accurate autopsy."

No one has been charged criminally in Varughese’s death.

Hearing delayed in Molly Young case

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

MURPHYSBORO — The attorney representing the father of Molly Young in a wrongful death suit against her former boyfriend said Monday that a hearing was delayed because of concerns about the judge’s previous involvement with the case.

Attorney Charles Stegmeyer, who is representing Larry Young in a civil lawsuit surrounding the death of his daughter in 2012, said the hearing scheduled for Monday in Jackson County was delayed so that he can file an additional motion.

“It is possible the judge may become a witness,” Stegmeyer said.

Although Stegmeyer declined to comment further, the issue apparently stems from a search warrant Judge Christy Solverson, who was assigned to hear the wrongful death case, signed separately the day Young’s body was found.

Police found Young’s body just after 9 a.m. March 24, 2012, in the bedroom of her on-and-off boyfriend, Richie Minton, who at the time was employed as a dispatcher at the Carbondale Police Department. Young died from a gunshot wound to the head, although who fired the shot has been a controversial question for almost three years.

The Illinois State Police, who took the case at the request of the Carbondale Police chief, obtained a search warrant signed by Solverson just before 4 p.m. the day Young's body was found. The warrant was for the seizure of buccal swabs, blood, urine and fingernail clippings from Minton.

The evidence that the warrant authorized collection of was not taken until just after 7 p.m. that night, and the delay has been the source of continued concern from Young’s family and friends.

Minton, who no longer works for the Carbondale Police, summoned Young to his Carbondale apartment early that morning and reported her death in a 911 call just after 9 a.m. Minton, who had been drinking heavily earlier in the evening, told first responders that he must have slept through the shot fired from his personal handgun. He has not been charged in connection with Young’s death, and multiple prosecutors now have declined to pursue the case.

At an inquest in January 2013, jurors heard extended excerpts from journals Young had kept in which she expressed a range of suicidal thoughts. Also, a series of text messages sent from her phone in the hours before she died detailed more suicidal thoughts and attempts to overdose on pills. The inquest jury ultimately ruled the manner of Young’s death undetermined due to a lack of evidence.

Larry Young filed the civil suit against Minton in June 2014, alleging that Minton fraudulently concealed Young’s death by wiping the gun clean, changing his clothes, waiting hours to call 911 and declining to give investigating authorities a statement.

Minton's attorney, Bryan Drew, did not comment Monday but said the hearing had been delayed because of procedural issues.

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