Sexual exploitation suspects to remain jailed pending trial

A former South Texas College professor and a woman accused of filming the sexual abuse of young girls will be held without bond pending trial or the resolution of their cases.

Agents with the Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Investigation Task Force arrested Reid Etheridge, a former math professor, on Oct. 2 and arrested Alicia Cronkhite on Oct. 7.

Etheridge is charged with sexual exploitation and Cronkhite is charged with sexual exploitation and distribution of child pornography.

Federal agents accuse Cronkhite of sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl while filming and taking pictures of the abuse. Authorities allege she sent those images and videos to Etheridge, who agents accuse of uploading the child pornography to the internet.

Etheridge is also accused of filming himself sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker issued the ruling Friday morning following Wednesday afternoon detention hearings.

In Etheridge’s case, Hacker ruled that there is no condition or combination of conditions that would assure Etheridge appeared in court and because there is probable cause that Etheridge committed an offense against a minor.

“The defendant has presented evidence sufficient to rebut the presumption, but after considering the presumption and the other factors discussed below, detention is warranted,” Hacker ruled.

In the order, the magistrate judge says detention is warranted because the weight of the evidence against Etheridge is strong; he faces a lengthy jail sentence if convicted; he has a history of alcohol or substance abuse; and he lacks stable employment.

“The allegations regarding the nature of the crime is believed to show a pattern over a period of time. Of significance, Defendant is also allegedly involved in similar conduct regarding a victim, who is a minor,” Hacker wrote.

As for Cronkhite, Hacker made a similar determination, including there is no condition or combination of conditions that would assure her appearance because the offense involves a minor.

The order also says there’s no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of any other persons and the community.

She’s also being detained because Hacker found the weight of the evidence against Cronkhite is strong; she is subject to a lengthy jail sentence if convicted; and she lacks stable employment.

“The government proffered facts, under seal, regarding the nature and circumstances of the case. While Defendant, through her attorney, attempt to explain or put in context some of the government’s allegations, Defendant’s explainations (sic) did not appear credible,” Hacker says in the order.

Federal agents nabbed the duo after Google referred the suspects to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, after the tech giant discovered email addresses involving a suspect producing and uploading multiple files of child exploitation material, according to the criminal complaint.

The NCMEC reported approximately 323 videos and images depicting young children in sexually explicit conduct.

After arresting Etheridge, federal agents found text messages between him and a contact identified as “Who?” that authorities say is Cronkhite.

Those text messages allegedly discuss sexual exploitation of child and excerpts included in the complaint are disturbing and too graphic to publish.

The alleged abuse occurred throughout 2020, authorities say.

As of early Friday afternoon, future court hearings had not yet been scheduled.