Jerry Harris, one the most prominent stars of Netflix's docuseries Cheer, was sentenced Wednesday to 12 Years in Prison on federal charges related to child sexual abuse images.
Harris, 22 years old, was charged with seven counts of child pornography receiving and attempting receipt and persuading minors for sexual contact between August 2017 and August 2020. The victims were from Texas, Florida, and Illinois according to the prosecution.
Joseph D. Fitzpatrick (assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois) confirmed that he was sentenced to 12 year imprisonment, which will be followed by eight years of court-supervised freedom.
Harris was to be sentenced to a 15 year term by the prosecution. They wrote in a sentencing memo that Harris used his status as a cheerleader and his social media persona and finally his money to persuade boys under 18 years old into sending explicit content.
Harris, who claimed to be a mentor who could trust, would pressurize his victims and offer to pay him in return for their sexual conduct or favors, according to prosecutors. According to the sentencing memorandum, Harris threatened to release the videos they sent to him if they did not continue.
Prosecutors claimed Harris' behavior continued until his arrest in September 2020.
Harris' attorneys argued that Harris was a victim of sexual assault as a child, and therefore had a "distorted version" of the appropriate relationships. Court documents state this. They requested six years imprisonment.
In the beginning, the former cheerleader and TV star pleaded not guilty but in February changed his plea to admit guilty to two counts of the indictment: receiving child pornography and engaging with interstate travel to the purpose of engaging a sexual act or a minor.
Two of the victims were twin brothers. According to a complaint, one of the victims told police Harris offered oral sex to him in a public bathroom at a cheerleading event he and his brother attended. The complaint stated that Harris also contacted the boy via Instagram in 2018, when Harris was 19, and the boy was 13.
Further, the complaint alleges that Harris requested one of the boys to send him nude Snapchat photos and then communicated with Harris via FaceTime. Harris asked the boy to reveal himself.
According to the complaint, one brother claimed Harris was touchy and would do "odd" things to him and his sibling. The complaint stated that Harris asked for nude photos from the boy and Harris became "pushy" when the boy refused.
On the second season, the brothers shared their stories on "Cheer," stating that Harris' fame and the potential impact it would have on their cheer community status initially made them afraid to speak up.
Sarah Klein, the brother's attorney, gave praise to the boys for their "tremendous courage and sacrifice" in a statement that followed Harris' sentencing.
Klein stated that "Jerry Harris is guilty and has been proven innocent." "The severity of his crimes, and the pain that his victims will endure for the rest of their lives are reflected in the sentence he was given."
Before the sentencing, the boys made victim statements. One brother commented on his grief over losing freedom and childhood.
He said that he had to stop cheering at his old gym as people were not in agreement with him and my family. "The only real community I felt at that time was the one I had for doing the right things, and it was taken from me."
According to the complaint, another victim aged 17 told investigators Harris was "relentless in soliciting photos from him on Snapchat." Harris refused to take his pictures until he offered to pay him, the boy claimed.
According to the complaint, Harris admitted to investigators that he had sent and received nude images and texted his brothers. The complaint stated that Harris also admitted to investigators that he had sent and received nude images from 10 to 15 minors, and that he had anal and oral sex with a fifteen-year-old.