By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) – A former Tennessee school teacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old student in a cross-country journey that ended with his arrest in California was indicted on Thursday by a federal grand jury on two felony counts.
Tad Cummins, 50, was charged with obstruction of justice and transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual conduct, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville.
Cummins faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
He was originally charged in a federal criminal complaint days after his arrest in April with a single count of interstate transportation of a minor for sex.
Cummins also faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
He became the subject of a nationwide manhunt after disappearing with one of his high school students on March 13 near Columbia, Tennessee, about 45 miles (70 km) south of Nashville. Authorities said at the time he apparently had lured her into a car outside a restaurant.
The pair were discovered 38 days later in a remote cabin in northern California near the Oregon border, where he was arrested and she was taken into protective custody.
Authorities also recovered two loaded handguns and a collection of stones marked with the names of locations where the two had presumably stopped during their travels.
“There are a lot of questions that have been unanswered” about the incident, Cummins’ attorney, Dumaka Shabazz, told reporters on Thursday.
Shabazz also said his client was not a flight risk, although a federal magistrate in Nashville denied Cummins’s request for pretrial release last week.
Shabazz said Cummins’ family was “strongly in support of him” and that he “has been of great character.”
Another attorney for Cummins said at a court hearing in California last month the 15-year-old girl went with her teacher willingly. Court filings by the defense asserted that Cummins “never employed violence, force or threats” against her.
“At no time was the alleged victim held at gunpoint, hit or forcibly held,” the defense said in its brief. “In fact, it appears that she desired to leave a broken home, and a school where she was a bullied outsider.”
The girl’s father has said he believed his daughter had been “brainwashed” by Cummins.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Steve Gorman, Andrew Hay and Paul Tait)