Prosecutors push for judge to sentence Tad Cummins to 30 years in teacher sex case

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Prosecutors in the case of Tad Cummins want the former teacher to spend 30 years behind bars for a sexual relationship he had with a 15-year-old student.

The 360-month sentence recommendation for Cummins, who pleaded guilty in April 2018 to transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of criminal sexual activity and obstruction of justice, is at the upper end of federal sentencing guidelines.

Cummins is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Nashville.

His defense attorneys, who said 30 years would be a death sentence at his age, have asked for the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence. The harshest punishment the former Tennessee teacher faces is life in prison.

Cummins was 50 when he and the 15-year-old girl left Columbia, Tenn., and made their way across the country in March 2017. Prior to leaving, authorities said Cummins and the girl had been seen kissing in a classroom at Culleoka School Unit, where he was a teacher. At the time they left, Cummins was suspended from teaching.

Cummins took out a $4,500 loan for travel expenses and borrowed his wife's car under the guise of having a job interview that day, prosecutors said. He disabled the vehicle's GPS and left his wife a note stating that he was heading east to Washington, D.C. or Virginia, they said -- when in fact, he planned to head to the west coast with the girl and then to Mexico.

Authorities nationwide searched for Cummins and the teen for 38 days and only had one confirmed sighting in Oklahoma to go on before they finally were found in a remote part of northern California, near the Oregon border. After his arrest, authorities said Cummins admitted the two had sex repeatedly during the trip.

Cummins initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but changed his mind last April.

In a memo to the court prior to sentencing, prosecutors said they were asking for a lengthy sentence because at the time of his arrest in California, Cummins had no plans to stop sexually exploiting the victim or return home to family. They also state Cummins groomed the girl for sexual exploitation and carefully planned their journey from Tennessee to avoid being caught.

Cummins's attorneys also submitted a memo to the court claiming unsubstantiated allegations were included in his presentencing report. They also claimed the federal crime he pleaded guilty to would have been a state crime of aggravated statutory rape if they had stayed in Tennessee and not crossed state lines. That crime would have been punishable by 2-4 years in prison.

A number of letters on Cummins's behalf also were submitted prior to sentencing, including letters from his family, childhood acquaintances and an associate chaplain at the prison where Cummins is incarcerated in Henderson County, Tenn.

Courtroom sketch of Tad Cummins' federal arraignment (Courtesy: Vicki Behringer)

In associate chaplain Stephen Raleigh's letter, he describes Cummins as "extremely remorseful," for what happened and said he has made an effort to understand his actions and how to make sure they never happen again. He also said Cummins has helped other inmates dealing with addiction and dysfunctional behaviors, and said Cummins wants to work in jail ministry after he has served his time.

"Mr. Cummins is at the very top of the list of inmates whom I believe are “reformed”, not likely to offend again, and deserve a  chance to give back to society a portion of what they have learned from their incarceration," Raleigh said.

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