By Chris Kenning
(Reuters) - A 50-year-old former Tennessee schoolteacher accused of kidnapping one of his high school students will remain behind bars after a federal judge on Friday found probable cause to send the case to a grand jury.
Magistrate Judge Barbara Holmes denied Tad Cummins's request for pre-trial release in a hearing in Nashville. He could face at least 10 years in prison if convicted on federal charges of bringing a minor across state lines for sex.
He also faces state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
Cummins became the subject of a nationwide manhunt after disappearing on March 13 with the 15-year-old student near Columbia, Tennessee.
Cummins had been under investigation by authorities for his relationship with the girl. The pair were discovered 38 days later in a remote cabin in northern California near the Oregon border.
Cummins' defense attorney, Dumaka Shabazz, said in a court filing that Cummins maintained his innocence. The motion for release said Cummins was a Christian who taught Sunday school and had no other criminal history.
"Mr. Cummins concedes that this case allegedly involves a minor victim. However, he adamantly rejects the notion that the events before the court are a crime of violence," the filing said.
"Mr. Cummins never employed violence, force or threats," the filing added. "At no time was the alleged victim held at gunpoint, hit or forcibly held. In fact, it appears that she desired to leave a broken home, and a school where she was a bullied outsider."
But prosecutors in court filings said Cummins was both a flight risk and a danger to others, saying he abused his position as the vulnerable victim's high school teacher in Culleoka, Tennessee, evaded police by changing licenses plates, ditched smartphones, altered appearances and later told authorities and others that he had sex with the girl.
The Tennessean reported that Cummins, dressed in striped prison garb, remained silent, but turned to mouth "I love you," to his two daughters and relatives at Friday's hearing.
Anthony Thomas, the girl's father, previously said he thought his daughter had been "brainwashed" by Cummins.
Jason Whatley, an attorney who represents the teen's family, said earlier this week that the girl was currently recovering with support and treatment.
"We trust the U.S. Attorney's Office to handle the matter and make sure Tad Cummins is held to account for what he has done," Whatley said.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago, editing by G Crosse)