The trial for former Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins in the kidnapping of teen Elizabeth Thomas was delayed to January 2018 after the accused filed a motion to reset the date. On Friday, a federal judge granted Cummins' request for pushing the trial from July 25.
Cummins' attorney, public defender Dumaka Shabazz, wanted a new date for his client to conduct additional research and investigation in the case. The 51-year-old former teacher, who was indicted on charges related to sex crimes with a minor, pleaded not guilty.
“In light of the serious nature of the charge, the ongoing plea discussions, and the need to conduct additional research and investigation, undersigned counsel submits that the interests of justice will be served by the granting of a continuance," the motion by the Assistant Federal Public Defender said. "Further, he submits that the denial of a continuance in the present case would deny him the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence."
Cummins, who taught at Culleoka Unit School, is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth. Following the alleged kidnapping in March, the authorities issued an Amber Alert and launched a nationwide manhunt to nab the accused.
An unidentified student reported seeing Elizabeth and Cummins kissing in his classroom after Elizabeth went missing on March 13. Police found the duo weeks later in a remote part of Northern California.
Cummins was arrested on April 20, and charged with transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual conduct and obstruction of justice. If convicted, Cummins could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, up to life.
While prosecutors said Cummins forced Elizabeth to go with her, the defendant's lawyer claimed the minor was not held against her will and that she fled her home willingly with her former teacher.
However, an attorney for the Thomas family, called the idea “amazingly absurd.” "She is 15, a child. He is 50, a grown man. She's a high school freshman. He's a former teacher. This is, and was, not a romance," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn told reporters in April. "This was manipulation solely to benefit Tad Cummins. This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping."
FBI agent Utley Noble testified in May that Cummins confessed having sex with Elizabeth “most nights” when the two were on the run. Cummins’s estranged wife Jill also told Inside Edition in April he admitted having sex with the minor. Jill filed for divorce after it was revealed Cummins might be involved in the kidnapping of Elizabeth.
Earlier this month, Elizabeth’s father Anthony Thomas told People magazine his family was preparing for the “highly emotional” trial. “It’s a highly emotional issue,” Thomas told People “[Going to court] is going to be very difficult for everybody.”
“We’ve spoken many times as a family,” he said, adding: “[Going to court] is just something we’re going to have to go through.”