GALLATIN, Tenn. (CN) – A Tennessee judge ruled Wednesday there is enough evidence for a grand jury to hear the case of a man accused of killing eight people, including his parents, in a rural community a few miles from the Kentucky border.
Michael Cummins, 25, was detained after law enforcement responded to a 911 call about six bodies discovered in a rural home in Westmoreland, Tennessee, on April 27. Police shot and wounded Cummins in a nearby creek bed after he brandished a hatchet.
Investigators then linked Cummins to two other deaths, including one that police discovered 10 days before.
After hearing some of the evidence the state had gathered so far, Sumner County General Sessions Judge James Hunter said he found probable cause and bound the case over to a grand jury late Wednesday morning.
According to Tennessee’s rules of criminal procedure, a preliminary hearing is held before a general sessions judge for the state to prove it has enough evidence to take the matter before a grand jury. Cummins is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and one count each of criminal homicide, attempted first-degree murder and theft.
Sheriff’s deputies wheeled Cummins, handcuffed and dressed in tan prison garb, into the large general sessions courtroom in a wheelchair. Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, he rocked back and forth.
During the hearing that lasted a little over two hours, investigators recounted the bloody scenes and described shoes and a broken rifle they believe point to Cummins as the culprit.
“Upon walking onto the front porch, I could see that there was some evidence located outside,” said Miranda Gaddes, a forensic scientist with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation who testified as an expert witness. “Walking in the front door, I could see a victim lying on the couch in the living room. I could see what appeared to be many possible shoe impressions in what appeared to be blood.”
According to court documents, Cummins borrowed a pair of shoes from his cousin and left a pair of girls’ shoes he was wearing at his uncle’s trailer on about April 26, the day before law enforcement searched the interior of the home on Charles Brown Road.
“The tread pattern on the ‘girls’ shoes is consistent with shoe impressions, in what appears to be blood, found inside 1177 Charles Brown Road,” according to an affidavit from TBI Special Agent Andrew Graves.
The victims include Cummins’ father, mother and uncle. Rachel Dawn McGlothlin-Pee, her daughter and her mother were also found dead at the residence.
Lance Hampton, a detective with the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office, testified he discovered Shirley Fehrle dead at a nearby residence within a few feet of her front door with trauma to her face. Police believe Cummins stole and abandoned her black Kia Forte. Ten days the seven bodies were discovered, police found the body of James Dunn Jr. yards away from his burned cabin and his .30-30 Winchester lever action rifle missing.
An oxygen machine continued to run as forensic scientists with TBI picked through and processed the scene April 27, Gaddes testified. A pool of blood lay near the front door. The feet of one of the victims poked out from underneath a love seat. Drag marks in what appeared to be blood went down the hall.
“It was hard to tell with any of the victims, honestly, in this residence to see the injuries because there was so much blood present,” Gaddes said.
In one room, forensic scientists found the butt of the .30-30 rifle belonging to Dunn. Under another body, they found the rest of the gun, which had broken.
Cummins is represented by appointed attorneys Paul Bruno and James A. Simmons.
Acknowledging that the state only needs to establish probable cause at a preliminary hearing, Bruno said the evidence against his client boiled down to a shoe that Cummins admitted to wearing.
“I do not recall hearing any other evidence in regard to a connection between Mr. Cummins and the homicides other than a shoe,” Bruno said Wednesday. “And I’m not sure that a sufficient probable cause in this scenario.”
As Judge Hunter bound the case over to grand jury proceedings, Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley said it would not be ready in time to present to the July session of the grand jury. He said the earliest he could have the case ready would be the grand jury’s August term. Cummins’ arraignment could come in late August.
Speaking with reporters outside the judicial building, Whitley said Cummins, with his history in the court system, has not been declared to be incompetent to stand trial yet.
“There could be more charges,” Whitley said. “But we gotta get all the evidence together before we go to the grand jury because when we draw that indictment, we want to make sure that we’re correct and have something that we can prove in court.”
Cummins’ day in court began at 8:30 a.m., when he appeared before a judge in Sumner County Criminal Circuit Court in a separate courtroom for a parole violation hearing.
On Sept. 13, 2017, Cummins attempted to set fire to his neighbor’s home by wedging garbage such as a diaper and cigarette packs underneath the floor insulation in the crawl space. The neighbor went outside where Cummins, possessing a revolver, shoved her to the ground and started pulling her hair.
When he was arrested in 2017, he told the arresting officer, “If I get out of jail I’ll go down there and do it again.”
He pleaded no contest to the charges of aggravated assault and aggravated arson in July 2018. He was placed on probation.
Days before discovering the homicides, police were preparing to arrest Cummins for unrelated probation violations.
Steve McGlothlin, whose mother, sister and niece died in the incident, said he has felt like TBI has kept him in the dark. He learned of his family member’s deaths when their names were published. He is also frustrated by the pace of the court proceedings and believes police acted slowly and kept Cummins out on probation.
After Wednesday’s hearing, the factory worker from Scottsville, Kentucky, stood outside drinking a can of cola. He grew overwhelmed in the hearing when Gaddes testified his 12-year-old niece was found only dressed in socks and an undone bra.
“I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore and I stood up, I called him a son of a bitch and of course they told me to get out,” McGlothlin told Courthouse News.
Gaddes testified there is no evidence yet of sexual assault.
McGlothlin thought it was important that he attend the hearing.
“I think somebody should be here from my family,” he said. “I mean, I’m the last one left of my immediate family.”