Prosecutors: Man singled out girls with mental health issues, encouraged one to set fire to home

A former Redondo Beach resident was behind bars Wednesday on federal child sexual exploitation charges after prosecutors described in court how he allegedly singled out girls suffering from mental health issues and encouraged one of them to set fire to her family's home in an unsuccessful bid to kill her parents.

Matthew Christian Locher, 31, allegedly targeted girls beset with depression, suicidal thoughts and anorexia, and groomed them online to engage in self-mutilation and other harmful behavior for his gratification, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Locher was ordered detained Tuesday after pleading not guilty to an eight-count indictment charging him with sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of a child for the purpose of producing a sexually explicit visual depiction, enticement and attempted enticement of a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, and receipt of child pornography.

The charges could bring a life sentence in federal prison. Trial was set for April 19.

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As alleged in the indictment, Locher enticed two of the minor victims to send images of themselves committing acts of self-harm, which included cutting their breasts. Locher allegedly used racial epithets to devalue one of the victims and entice her to self-mutilate.

Federal prosecutors contend Locher enticed a third victim, who was 12 years old, to run away from home in Ohio and travel to California to engage in illegal sexual activity with him. The girl began the journey after setting a fire in her family's home -- an unsuccessful attempt to kill her parents in a plot Locher encouraged, prosecutors said in Los Angeles federal court.

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The defendant — who used screen names including "The Hat" and "Shark" — was arrested Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, where he relocated last summer.

According to a search warrant unsealed after his arrest, Locher allegedly "enticed, encouraged, and instructed the victims to produce child pornography and child sexual abuse material in the form of sexually explicit images and video recordings of themselves to send to Locher over the internet."

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