By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A former Tennessee schoolteacher accused of abducting a 15-year-old girl and taking her on a multistate odyssey that included sexual abuse before the pair were found in California will be returned to face federal kidnapping charges in Nashville.
Tad Cummins, 50, appeared in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, California, on Monday on a charge of transporting Elizabeth Thomas across state lines for sex. She is a student at the high school where he formerly worked.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman ordered Cummins to be kept in federal custody as a flight risk and a danger to others, and returned to Tennessee for trial.
Cummins did not enter a plea during the hearing, at which prosecutors detailed his alleged flight across the country with Thomas. During 38 days on the run, Cummins tried to avoid detection by switching license plates on a 2015 Nissan Rogue he stole from his wife and disabling its GPS system, authorities said.
Prosecutors argued Cummins posed a flight risk, saying he had tested out a run to Mexico on a watercraft he procured. In Oklahoma, he bought KY Jelly, a lubricant used for sex, and before leaving Tennessee he refilled a prescription for Cialis, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, showing he intended to have sex with the minor, prosecutors said.
"The alleged crime is heinous," assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hitt wrote in court documents. Cummins faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
But Cummins' attorney, public defender Ben Galloway, told a very different story, saying Thomas went willingly with Cummins.
"It is important to note that these allegations do not involve force, threats, or coercion of any sort," Galloway said in an email to Reuters. "This was not an abduction or kidnapping as has been suggested."
Cummins and Thomas became the subject of a nationwide search after he apparently lured the girl into his car outside a restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, about 45 miles (72.4 km)south of Nashville.
They were discovered on Thursday in a remote cabin in Northern California near the Oregon border.
Speaking to Nashville-ABC affiliate WKRN on Sunday, Thomas' sister, Kat Bozeman, said the teen is receiving treatment at a mental health facility.
Her father, Anthony Thomas, said Elizabeth is having a tough time.
“Sometimes she’ll be happy and laughing and back to the same old girl and then she’ll be sometimes just in the fetal position crying," Anthony Thomas said.
(Additional reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Matthew Lewis)