Jerry Harris, one of the breakthrough stars of the Netflix documentary series ‘Cheer’, was sentenced to 12 months in prison on Wednesday years in prison on federal charges depicting child sexual abuse.
Harris, 22, was charged on seven counts of receiving and attempting to receive child pornography and of persuading minors to have sexual contact from August 2017 to August 2020. Prosecutors said the charges involved victims in Texas, Florida and Illinois.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, followed by 8 years of court-supervised release, Joseph D. Fitzpatrick, assistant US attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, told NBC News.
Prosecutors had demanded a 15-year sentence for Harris, writing in a criminal memorandum that he used “his competitive cheerleader status, his social media persona, and ultimately his celebrity and money” to coax underage boys into sending sexually explicit content.
Harris, who promoted himself as a “trustworthy mentor,” would pressure his victims and offer to pay them in return for sexual behavior and favors, prosecutors said. When that failed, he threatened to “distribute the videos they sent if they refused to continue,” according to the sentencing note.
Prosecutors said Harris’s behavior continued until his arrest in September 2020.
Harris’ attorneys argued that their client was sexually abused as a child and therefore had a “skewed version of what he understood to be appropriate relationships,” according to court documents. They asked for six years in prison.
The former cheerleader and television star initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but changed it in February to plead guilty to two of the charges in the indictment, receiving child pornography and traveling between states for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with a person. minor .
Two of the victims are twin brothers. One of the boys told police that Harris had asked him to perform oral sex in a bathroom during a cheerleading event they were both attending, according to a complaint. Harris was also accused of contacting the boy on Instagram in 2018 when Harris was 19 and the boy was 13, the indictment said.
The complaint further alleges that one of the boys said he sent Harris nude photos on Snapchat at Harris’s request and communicated with Harris on FaceTime, where Harris asked the boy to reveal himself.
One brother told investigators that Harris was “sensitive” and did “strange things” to him and his sibling, according to the complaint. He said Harris would ask for nude photos of him and if the boy refused, Harris would become “pushy,” the indictment said.
The brothers shared their story on the second season of ‘Cheer’, saying that they were initially afraid to speak out because of Harris’ celebrity and how it would affect their status in the cheer community.
Sarah Klein, the brothers’ attorney, praised the teenage boys for their “tremendous courage” and sacrifice in a statement following Harris’s conviction.
“Jerry Harris’ guilt is firmly established,” Klein said. “The sentence he received reflects the gravity of his crimes and the lifelong pain his victims will suffer.”
The boys made victim statements before sentencing, and one of the brothers noted that he was mourning his lost freedom and youth.
“I had to stop cheering at my old gym because the people there disagreed with me and my family for deciding to speak out,” he said. to do the right thing.”
Another victim, who was 17, told investigators that Harris was “relentless” in asking for photos of him on Snapchat, according to the indictment. The boy said he repeatedly rejected Harris until Harris offered to pay him.
According to the indictment, Harris admitted to sending and receiving nude photos and texting the brothers during a voluntary interview. He also told investigators that he had requested and received nude photos of 10 to 15 other minors and had oral and anal sex with a 15-year-old, the complaint said.
Harris appeared in the docuseries “Cheer,” which follows a Texas cheerleading team at Navarro College. Season 2 of the series dealt with the allegations against Harris.