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Man accused of killing seven set neighbor’s house on fire in 2017

GALLATIN, Tenn. — A suspect in the brutal slayings of seven people over the weekend in Middle Tennessee was on probation for setting a next door neighbor’s house on fire and attacking her in 2017, despite saying he planned to return and finish the job.

Michael Lee Cummins, a 25-year-old man with a court-documented history of mental health issues, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but placed on 10 years of probation last summer by a Sumner County judge after he pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated arson and aggravated assault in the Sept. 13, 2017, attack at a home in the 1100 block of Charles Brown Road, Sumner County Criminal Court records show. 

“If I get out of jail, I’ll go there and do it again,” an arrest warrant shows he told a Sumner County Sheriff’s Office deputy at the time of his 2017 arrest. “When I get out, I’ll finish the job.”

Seven people, including a 12-year-old girl, were found dead over the weekend in Sumner County in what the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is calling a string of homicides investigators linked to Cummins.

The woman in the arson case was not one of the homicide victims found over the weekend.

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The victims’ bodies were discovered as authorities scoured two separate crime scenes — on Charles Brown Road and in a home less than a mile away on Luby Brown Road. Authorities have not yet announced their cause and manner of death.

According to a July 19, 2018, probation order signed by Circuit Judge Dee David Gay following the arson and attack, Cummins appeared to be a good probation candidate as opposed to a prison inmate. 

“It appearing, however, to the satisfaction of the court that this defendant is not likely again to engage in a criminal course of conduct and that the ends of justice and the welfare of society do not require that the defendant shall presently suffer the penalty imposed by law by incarceration,” the probation order reads.

Conditions of Cummins’ probation in that case included he have no contact with the female victim (his next door neighbor) and that he undergo a mental health evaluation.

But Monday morning was the first time a violation of probation order was signed by Judge Gay. That affidavit specifies Cummins violated probation as a suspect in the murder of seven people at his residence and in a failure to comply with special conditions specifically addressing a mental health evaluation and a no contact order with the woman involved in the arson case.

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According to the warrant in that case, sheriff’s office deputies were dispatched to the woman’s home after she dialed 911 and told authorities Cummins had set her home on fire and assaulted her as she attempted to put out the flames.

The woman told deputies she was inside her home when she smelled smoke and realized it was on fire. When she tried to put the fire out, she said, Cummins shoved her to the ground and started pulling her hair, the warrant continues.

At the time of the assault, Cummins was armed with a weapon that appeared to be a revolver, the warrant states. At some point, Cummins ran off toward his home directly next door.

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During an investigation, detectives found insulation under the woman’s home which had been manipulated to allow flammable materials to be stuffed between the subflooring and insulation. The debris included a diaper, newspaper, coupons and cigarette packs.

During a search of Cummins’ home, investigators found items consistent with those which had been partially burned under the victim’s home.

The warrant goes on to state that after he was read his Miranda warning, he threatened he’d return to finish the job.

A history of violence

Cummins has an extensive criminal history in Sumner County, court records show.

According to court records, a mental health evaluation was ordered for Cummins after he violated a protective order against him in 2012, when officers found him in the parking lot of an abandoned business with the 17-year-old girl he was not to have contact with.

He was charged with violating that order and also cited for drug possession in that incident.

Then, on, Aug 19, 2013, he was arrested for domestic assault after his aunt told police he was “destroying the house and throwing things at her,” an affidavit of complaint shows.

According to the complaint, Cummins became upset when he felt his aunt accused him of stealing her money. As a result, he “’blacked out’ with anger and began throwing objects at her and tearing things up in the house.” His aunt told police she feared for her safety.

His charges were reduced to attempted assault and he was ordered to serve 150 days in jail.

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On May 6, 2017, Cummins was charged with domestic assault and robbery after he went to his mother’s house “where he is not supposed to be anymore” and asked her for money. She refused.

He also asked her for her food stamp card and medication, according the affidavit. When she refused, his grandmother took his mother’s purse into a back bedroom and lied down on it. Cummins then grabbed her by the arm and “yanked her from off the top of the purse also using her hair to move her.” He then fled the home with his mother’s purse and medication.

He pleaded guilty to the charge of domestic assault and was ordered to attend domestic violence classes and not to have any violent contact with his grandmother, according to court documents.

Cummins also pleaded guilty following a Feb. 20, 2017, incident in which he was charged with theft after stealing a white broad breasted turkey and a game camera from a neighbor’s house on Charles Brown Road. He was placed on supervised probation and ordered to complete mental health treatment at that time.

The weekend killings

Multiple victims in the weekend killings were close relatives of Cummins, according to social media posts from family members. The TBI has not yet confirmed the victims’ identities.

Investigators are still working to determine a motive and the causes of the victims’ deaths.

Cummins was announced as a person of interest in the case Saturday evening, and authorities said he could be hiding in the woods near the crime scene with a weapon.

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Law enforcement spotted Cummins in a creek bed about a mile away from the primary crime scene in Westmoreland. More than a dozen officers from the county’s joint SWAT Team found him and at least one officer opened fire, hitting Cummins.

Cummins was taken to a local hospital and was in good condition Sunday. Charges against him are pending.

As of mid-Monday morning he had yet to be booked into the Sumner County Jail, a jail spokesman said.

When he is booked into jail he will have no bond, she said.

Follow Natalie Neysa Alund on Twitter @nataliealund.

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