A Tennessee teacher who was on the run for weeks with a 15-year-old student was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison.
A statement from the victim called 52-year-old Tad Cummins "disgusting" and said the effects of his actions on her were "devastating and permanent."
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence after Cummins pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sex and obstructing justice.
The victim, Elizabeth Thomas, was in the federal courtroom in Nashville, but when the time came for her to speak, she did not come forward. After a discussion with the prosecutor and the judge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Beth Meyers read the girl's statement.
"What you did to me was unspeakable," Meyers read. The victim's statement said Cummins saw "a broken girl who was lonely, scared and traumatized." She needed protection, the statement said, but Cummins only wanted sex.
The statement also said that Thomas was convinced Cummins would have eventually discarded her had he not been captured.
After a national weeks-long manhunt in 2017, the two were discovered hiding out in a remote California cabin where they posed as husband and wife. The former teacher allegedly admitted to having sexual contact with the teen during “most nights” during their time on the run. Cummins left the state with her in March 2017 and during that time, the teen girl’s Instagram appeared to claim that she became Cummins’ wife.
In arguing for a stiff sentence, Meyers focused on the preparation that Cummins put into his flight with the girl, including taking his wife's car, which he thought would be less conspicuous than his own; filling a prescription for an erectile dysfunction drug; and taking out a loan so that he could pay for everything in cash.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger acknowledged that Cummins committed a "pretty despicable crime" but said there were also mitigating factors, including that he had no criminal record, that he was unlikely to re-offend, and that he promptly admitted to his crime and pleaded guilty. Cummins had asked for the minimum sentence of 10 years.
Prior to sentencing, Cummins broke down crying as he apologized for the harm he caused the victim, now 17, and his own family, some of whom were in the courtroom, including his two daughters.
Dressed in a gray-and-black-striped prison uniform, Cummins repeatedly said he had no idea why he did what he did, calling it a "misguided attempt to help that went sideways in a way I don't know I'll ever understand."
He also told the victim's family, "If someone had done this to one of my girls I would want to hurt them, and I fully understand if you feel that way about me."
Cummins was married when he fled town with Thomas.
Back in 2017, not long after the teen was rescued, an editor at the Columbia Daily Herald spotted Thomas at a fast food restaurant and started up an impromptu interview in which she reportedly said, “I don’t regret it [the ordeal with Cummins], nor do I say it was the right thing to do. It was an experience I’ll have to live with the rest of my life.”
Before Cummins transported the teen out of state, witnesses and students claimed the pair were spotted kissing in the school, and that he groomed her.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[Photo: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]
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