Sentencing reset in sexual exploitation case against former STC professor, co-defendant

A McAllen man and an Edinburg woman will have to wait longer to learn their fates in a child sexual exploitation case.

Reid Etheridge, a former South Texas College professor, and Alicia Cronkhite had been scheduled for sentencing Tuesday morning, but that hearing was reset after the attorneys representing them said they still needed more time to prepare for the sentencing hearing, records show.

On April 1, Etheridge pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of children and a count of coercion or enticement of a minor, while Cronkhite entered guilty pleas to charges of sexual exploitation of children and coercion or enticement of a female.

Sentencing had been initially set for June 15 and then reset until Tuesday.

A new sentencing date had not been entered into the court record as of Tuesday afternoon.

The case against the duo began last year when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, alerted federal authorities about multiple email accounts containing child pornography, which prompted an investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations – Rio Grande Valley Child Exploitation Task Force.

Agents with that task force arrested Etheridge and Cronkhite in October 2020.

Both have remained jailed since their arrests after a judge ruled that the consequences of a conviction, which include the possibility of life in prison, are too serious for them to receive bond.

Federal agents first arrested Etheridge after the NCMEC alert reported email accounts containing approximately 323 videos and images depicting young children in sexually explicit conduct.

For Etheridge’s part, federal authorities say he admitted to filming himself sexually abusing two children between Jan. 1, 2020, and Oct. 1, 2020, and uploading videos and images of the abuse to the internet.

In a news release announcing his plea, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said the former professor confessed to the abuse after his arrest.

After looking through his text messages, special agents found evidence of discussions about sexual exploitation of children and child pornography which led investigators to Cronkhite.

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

The criminal complaint against Cronkhite said that the child was in her care, but didn’t elaborate on the relationship between Cronkhite and the child.

Both of them have reached plea deals with the government.

Etheridge and Cronkhite face a minimum of 15 years in prison and up to life, a news release said.

The case against the pair is part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative the Department of Justice launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.