NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee teacher who set off a nationwide manhunt last year after he fled with a 15-year-old student broke down in court Thursday after pleading guilty to crossing state lines to have sex with a minor.
Former forensics teacher Tad Cummings, 51, also pleaded guilty Thursday to obstruction of justice before U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger in federal court in Nashville.
"I cannot be the man I need to be and not tell the truth," he said before losing his composure and starting to weep.
Cummins faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison for crossing state lines for sex with a minor. He also faces up to 20 years for obstruction of justice for destroying his and his former student's cellphone when he fled with her. He will be sentenced later this year.
The victim was in court, but did not speak afterward, but a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Donald Cochran said that prosecutors were relieved on her behalf.
"This decision today to plead guilty pleases us in the fact that at this point the victim will no longer have to face a lengthy trial and can go about her life," spokesman David Boling said afterwards.
A federal prosecutor told the court that Cummins engaged in sexual activity with the girl several times in a classroom closet at school and in a car. They first had intercourse after he took her out of state, according to authorities.
Cummins was married at the time and is a father and grandfather. Since he was jailed, he has called his wife — who filed for divorce after he disappeared — to ask for forgiveness, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Beth Myers told the court.
Cummins disappeared with the girl last March. They were found in April at a remote forest cabin near Cecilville, California, following a tip to police.
Cummins had planned to take the girl to Mexico and took a kayak from San Diego on a test run, the prosecutor said. He switched license plates twice, disabled his vehicle's GPS system, used aliases, altered his appearance, paid only in cash and used back roads during his nearly six weeks on the run, according to court documents.
Authorities credit the caretaker of the remote northern California property for helping police find the girl and arrest her alleged abductor. The girl was found safe.
Cummins taught at Culleoka Unit School in Culleoka, south of Nashville. He was fired a day after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert about the teen. The Tennessee Board of Education revoked Cummins' teaching license in July.