Tad Cummins, Tennessee teacher who fled with student, sentenced to 20 years in prison

/ CBS/AP

A Tennessee teacher who was on the run for weeks with a 15-year-old student was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison. A statement from the victim called 52-year-old Tad Cummins "disgusting" and said the effects of his actions on her were "devastating and permanent."

Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence after Cummins pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sex and obstructing justice.

The victim was in the federal courtroom in Nashville, but when the time came for her to speak, she did not come forward. After a discussion with the prosecutor and the judge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Beth Meyers read the girl's statement.

"What you did to me was unspeakable," Meyers read. The victim's statement said Cummins saw "a broken girl who was lonely, scared and traumatized." She needed protection, the statement said, but Cummins only wanted sex. The statement also said the girl was convinced Cummins would have eventually discarded her had he not been captured near a remote California cabin in April 2017 after a national manhunt.

Tenn. teacher found with teen in remote Calif. cabin arrested

In arguing for a stiff sentence, Meyers focused on the preparation Cummins put into his flight with the girl, including taking his wife's car, which he thought would be less conspicuous than his own; filling a prescription for an erectile dysfunction drug; and taking out a loan so he could pay for everything in cash.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger acknowledged Cummins committed a "pretty despicable crime" but said there were also mitigating factors, including he had no criminal record, he was unlikely to reoffend, and he promptly admitted to his crime and pleaded guilty. Cummins had asked for the minimum sentence of 10 years.

Prior to sentencing, Cummins broke down crying as he apologized for the harm he caused the victim, now 17, and his own family, some of whom were in the courtroom, including his two daughters.

Cummins walked into courtroom wearing shackles and a gray and black jumpsuit, CBS affiliate WTVF-TV reports. He mouthed "Hi" and waved to family and supporters sitting in the crowd, the station adds. He repeatedly said he had no idea why he did what he did, calling it a "misguided attempt to help that went sideways in a way I don't know I'll ever understand."

He also told the victim's family, "If someone had done this to one of my girls I would want to hurt them, and I fully understand if you feel that way about me."

WTVF-TV notes U.S. Attorney Don Cochran held a press conference after the sentencing. "This is a case of a vulnerable little girl who trusted somebody she thought was a special teacher but turned out to actually be a sexual predator," he said.

First published on January 16, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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