FBI: Ex-teacher, teen planned to paddle to Mexico 

Published: Saturday, May 13, 2017 @ 6:45 AM

A former teacher and his student, who vanished from middle Tennessee in March and sparked a 39-day hunt for the 15-year-old girl, planned to paddle to Mexico from Coronado Island in San Diego, CNN reported.

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Tad Cummins and his student, missing since March 13, threw their phones in the Tennessee River, switched licenses plates and disabled their car's GPS device to avoid detection, an FBI agent said. The fugitives were found 1,900 miles away from their Tennessee homes on April 20 at a remote cabin in the northern California town of Cecilville, WRCB reported.

Cummins faces a charge of taking a minor across state lines for the purpose of sexual activity, and will remain in jail until his trial, a judge ruled Friday. FBI agent Utley Noble told CNN that Cummins admitted to having sexual contact with teen “most nights,”

Cummins also bought a tablet to keep up with news on their disappearance, along with a two-person kayak worth $1,500, Noble said. After paddling to Mexico, Cummins and the teen were going to use aliases of a married couple — John and Joanne Castro — so they could blend into the population, Noble said.

They also allegedly switched license plate tags from Tennessee to Alabama, then from Alabama to Colorado, CNN reported.

Before he disappeared, Cummins left his wife a note saying he had gone to Virginia Beach to clear his head, CNN reported.

"Don't call the police. They'll think I ran because I'm guilty and I'm not!" the note said.

Jill Cummins filed for divorce from her husband in late April, citing irreconcilable differences.

Cummins and the girl disappeared March 13 amid a police investigation into their relationship. Cummins, a former high school health sciences teacher in Culleoka, Tennessee, had been suspended in February after a student reported him and the teen kissing in a classroom, CNN reported. 

According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Cummins refilled a prescription for Cialis, took out a cash loan, and made hotel reservations in Oklahoma, actions investigators say show he was planning to leave with the girl.

He was fired the day after they disappeared.

Tennessee law allows children older than 12 to decide whether to leave their families unless their removal or confinement "is accomplished by force, threat or fraud," CNN reported. 

If convicted on a charge of taking a minor across state lines, Cummins faces a minimum of 10 years in prison.



Wrongly convicted man released after 24 years in prison for murder

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 10:24 AM

Shaurn Thomas, 43, beams as he celebrates his freedom Tuesday, May 23, 2017, outside the Schuylkill County Correctional Facility in Frackville, Pennsylvania. Thomas was released after serving 24 years for a murder he did not commit.
Facebook/Pennsylvania Innocence Project

A Pennsylvania man was granted freedom Tuesday after spending 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Shaurn Thomas, 43, beamed as he walked out of the Schuylkill County Correctional Facility in Frackville and embraced family members, including his fiancée. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Thomas’ freedom was granted Tuesday morning by a judge who threw out his conviction in the 1990 murder of a businessman in North Philadelphia. 

Prosecutors in the case agreed with Thomas’ defense team that the evidence brought forth at trial did not support his conviction, the Inquirer reported. 

“I felt the justice system was going to prevail sooner or later, and that somebody would hear my cries,” Thomas said during a news conference outside the prison. “And they heard them.”

The people Thomas referred to were lawyers from the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, who took on Thomas’ case eight years ago. His lead attorney was James Figorski, senior staff attorney at Dechert LLP and a former Philadelphia police officer.  

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Thomas was convicted of the slaying of businessman Domingo Martinez, who was shot to death in November 1990 while taking a $25,000 check to be cashed. 

Thomas, then 16, had an alibi. He told authorities from the beginning that he was at a youth study center for juvenile offenders, dealing with the aftermath of an unrelated crime. 

Both Thomas and his mother said they were in court at the time of the murder, awaiting his initial appearance on an arrest the night before for a motorcycle theft, Dechert LLP said in a statement

The sign-in logs from the youth center disappeared before Thomas’ murder trial began. His alibi did not convince the jury, who found him guilty of Martinez’s murder. 

He was sentenced to life in prison in 1993, at the age of 19. 

Figorski, who represented Thomas pro bono, told the Inquirer that he was drawn to the case because he believed Thomas’ alibi. He worked with the Innocence Project to clear his client’s name. 

“Jim has never wavered in his support of Shaurn, and is responsible for uncovering astounding evidence of his innocence,” the Innocence Project said in a news release

The defense team began working in January with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit, which found the case file from the Martinez murder investigation. The file disappeared decades ago.

“In that file were 36 pages of witness statements taken days after the murder for which Shaurn would be arrested years later,” the Innocence Project said. “Those statements point to viable alternative perpetrators.

“Had that information been available at trial -- and had the story of Shaurn’s presence in court at the moment the murder was committed been told correctly -- prosecutors agreed the trial would likely have ended differently.”

Despite his release, prosecutors could choose to refile murder charges against Thomas, the Inquirer reported. They have until June 13 to make their decision. 

In the meantime, Thomas is adjusting to being back with his family. He told NBC10 in Philadelphia that he plans to leave the city.

“Philadelphia caused me too many heartaches,” Thomas said. 

His mother, Hazeline Thomas, said it was difficult knowing that authorities did not believe her or her son. She said her son never gave up on proving his innocence.

“I’m proud because he was innocent and he did something about it,” she told NBC10.

“Family, prayer, hope,” Shaurn Thomas said. “Keep writing. Keep fighting. Never give up.”

Child sex abuse case surfaces after girl looks up porn at school, police say

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 3:14 AM

A Texas man is facing child sex abuse charges after a girl was caught accessing pornography on a school iPad to learn more about what he does to her, according to an affidavit filed by police.

The 9-year-old told a teacher at San Antonio’s Elm Creek Elementary School that Anthony Garay sexually abused her "all the time at night," according to KSAT and the Houston Chronicle.

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The shocked teacher reportedly called Child Protective Services, who interviewed the child. After the interview, police arrested Garay, 31. He’s been investigated – but not charged – by CPS in prior sexual abuse cases.

Garay was subsequently charged with a first-degree felony for continuous sexual abuse of a child. He is being held on $75,000 bond in the Bexar County Jail.


Severed animal heads on Florida road was ‘cleansing ritual,' deputies say

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 10:37 AM

Volusia County deputies are investigating after nine severed animal heads were found on the side of a Florida road.
News | WFTV

Volusia County deputies are investigating after nine severed animal heads were found on the side of a Florida road.  

The gruesome discovery was made last week.

Investigators said that they think the animals were part of a "cleansing ritual."

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The bodies of animals were found underneath an upside down recycle bin by a woman riding her bike.

Investigators said a family told them they killed the five chickens, two pigeons, one goat and a turtle to cleanse a man of his schizophrenic thoughts. All the animals were missing their heads.

Court records showed the man the ritual was being performed on was arrested for animal cruelty last year for hanging a dog, investigators said.  

He pleaded no contest to the charge.  

An official with the sheriff's office told Eyewitness News that it is still investigating the case, and charges may be filed.


Texas man guilty of stabbing girlfriend 27 times with screwdriver

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 10:07 AM

Willie Lee Brady pleaded guilty Tuesday during his trial for aggravated assault and accepted a 25-year prison sentence.
Travis County Courts

An Austin man, who stabbed his girlfriend 27 times with a screwdriver when she was recovering from surgery, pleaded guilty Tuesday on the opening day of his aggravated assault trial.

Willie Lee Brady Jr., 40, accepted a 25-year prison sentence, the low end of his punishment range, rather than continuing with the trial and risking up to a life sentence from a Travis County judge.

He informed his attorney of his decision during a break from the victim’s emotional testimony in which she told the court how she was punched, choked and stabbed on the morning of Dec. 4, 2015, during a fight with Brady over money he said was missing. The day before, the woman had been discharged from the hospital after foot surgery.

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About 11:30 a.m., police responded to a disturbance at a Motel 6 in South Austin. The woman said Brady, her boyfriend of two years, shoved her in the face, prompting her to call hotel security to have him removed, according to the arrest affidavit. But the violence continued, with Brady striking her in the mouth with a closed fist, she said.

The woman grabbed a screwdriver from her purse and slashed at Brady, cutting him above the eye, but he knocked the screwdriver loose, threw her to the bed and applied his forearm to the front of her neck, a police affidavit says. The woman told police she could not breathe for several seconds and was seeing stars.

She suspected Brady was high on “wet,” or embalming fluid, according to the affidavit. Prosecutors said they think he was under the influence of PCP.

A struggle for the screwdriver ensued, and Brady got to it first. He stabbed the victim repeatedly, striking her in the legs, buttocks, abdomen and left forearm, which required stitches, the affidavit says. Police found the screwdriver outside of the room under a jacket belonging to Brady.

According to the indictment, Brady had four previous felony convictions for possession of a controlled substance and a felony conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.