COLUMBIA, Tennessee -- A Tennessee district attorney says the man believed to have kidnapped 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas could walk away with only a misdemeanor.
Investigators have repeatedly said it doesn't matter if the teen willingly left with 50-year-old Tad Cummins.
However, Tennessee law doesn't necessarily reflect that statement. In fact, whether she went willingly will play a huge role in determining whether the district attorney can prove kidnapping, Maury County District Attorney Brent Cooper told WHNT.
"If she comes back and she is absolutely adamant that this is all voluntary, her own doing, that he didn't touch her, it's going to be difficult to prove that," said Cooper.
Cooper said one of the challenges is Thomas' age. She's already 15, and it takes a while to move a criminal case to trial.
"She may not be an adult by that time, but she's going to look like it, and we're going to have to convince 12 people that it was coercion the way that he went about convincing her to leave," said Cooper.
While she isn't an adult, the state of Tennessee's current kidnapping law treats her that way.
"Our kidnapping statute says in essence that you can be between 13 and 18 and you can legally make the mature decision to leave your family and run off with a person never to be seen again," said Cooper.
That's why he is hoping to help change the law.
"The statue should say if an adult, especially one in an authority position over a child, removes a child with or without that child's consent, if it's without the consent of the parents or guardians, that should be a crime," said Cooper.
The district attorney said he is unsure what a final bill proposal would look like. However, he believes this case will be a reason for lawmakers to list. He said getting something into law will cost the state time and money.