Child exploitation suspects indicted

Two child exploitation suspects arrested this month could face life in prison if convicted of charges that include the production, receipt and distribution of child pornography as well as coercion and enticement of a minor.

Ryan K. Patrick, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, announced in a news release that 41-year-old McAllen resident Reid Etheridge, a former South Texas College professor, and 28-year-old Edinburg resident Alicia Cronkhite were indicted on the charges.

The indictment was not publicly available in federal court records as of deadline Tuesday and a spokesperson for the Southern District of Texas said they didn’t have a copy of the indictment readily available.

The Homeland Security Investigations-led Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Investigation Task Force arrested Etheridge on Oct. 2 and arrested Cronkhite on Oct. 7.

Etheridge was charged in a criminal complaint with sexual exploitation while Cronkhite was charged with sexual exploitation and distribution of child pornography.

A U.S. magistrate judge ruled last week that both suspects will be held without bond pending trial due to a number of circumstances, including the lengthy prison sentences they face if convicted.

Federal agents arrested Etheridge after Google referred email accounts later linked to him to the National Center for Mission and Exploited Children, or NCMEC.

Those email accounts were used for uploading multiple files of child exploitation material by a suspect producing the material, according to federal authorities.

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

Federal agents arrested Cronkhite after finding messages in Etheridge’s phone discussing sexual exploitation of a child and child pornography, according to the criminal complaints.

Federal prosecutors allege that Etheridge abused a child and uploaded those videos to the email account.

“According to the charges, Etheridge had encouraged Cronkhite to produce child pornography of another minor victim,” the news release states. “Cronkhite then allegedly took photographs of herself abusing a minor victim and texted the photographs to Etheridge.”