Tad Cummins wept in court on Thursday as the former Tennessee teacher pleaded guilty to having sex with his teenage student and taking her across state lines, triggering a headline-grabbing nationwide manhunt last spring.
"I cannot be the man I need to be and not tell the truth," the 51-year-old former Tennessee teacher told a judge, nearly a year after his initial not guilty plea in May 2017 to charges he had sex with the 15-year-old victim and convinced her to flee the state with him.
Cummins faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for crossing state lines for sex with a minor. Additionally, he faces up to 20 years for obstruction of justice for destroying his and his former student’s cellphone when he fled with her.
The girl was reportedly in the courtroom at the time, but did not speak, though a spokesman spoke to reporters 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 told The Associated Press.
Prosecutors allege Cummins engaged in sexual activity with the victim in a classroom closet at school and in a car, though they first had intercourse after he took her out of state.
Cummins was married at the time — as well as a father and grandfather — but his wife has since filed for divorce.
Cummins disappeared in March 2017, allegedly with the intention of taking the girl to Mexico. After nearly six weeks on the run, they were found in a forest cabin in remote Cecilville, Calif.
The victim was unharmed. Cummins will be sentenced later this year.