Former “Cheer” star Jerry Harris on Wednesday was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for sex crimes.
Harris, 22, of Naperville, Illinois, who starred in the Netflix docuseries, was sentenced by a federal judge in Chicago after he pleaded guilty in February to federal charges related to soliciting child sexual abuse imagery and illegal sexual conduct with a minor, Variety reported.
U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also ordered Harris to serve eight years of court-supervised release after he completes his sentence, according to The Associated Press.
Harris has been held without bail since he was arrested in September 2020 on child pornography charges, the Chicago Tribune reported. According to a criminal complaint, Harris admitted to FBI agents who raided his home that he had solicited lewd images and sex from a boy on numerous occasions, the newspaper reported.
“Jerry Harris’ guilt has been firmly established,” Sarah Klein, an attorney for a Texas family who was the first to report allegations against Harris to authorities, told USA Today. “The sentence he received reflects the severity of his crimes and the lifetime of pain his victims will suffer.”
“I am deeply sorry for all the trauma my abuse has caused you. I pray deep down that your suffering comes to an end,” Harris told the court before he was sentenced. “I’m not an evil person. “I’m still learning who I am and what my purpose is.”
Harris was arrested months after the first season of “Cheer” debuted in January 2020, USA Today reported. The series, which follows the cheerleading squad of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, competing in the Daytona national championship, was a critical success, Harris became a fan favorite and minor celebrity.
His charges would later be addressed in the show’s second season earlier this year, according to the newspaper. One episode was dedicated to his case and featured interviews with his victims.
Prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for Harris, NBC News reported. They alleged he used “his status as a competitive cheerleader, his social media persona, and eventually his celebrity and money” to convince minor boys to send him sexually inappropriate photos and messages.
Harris’ attorneys had argued for a six-year prison term, according to the news outlet. In court documents, they cited Harris’ difficult childhood and said he had a “warped” view of relationships because he was sexually assaulted at age 13 by a 19-year-old from his cheer gym.
In December 2020, a seven-count indictment was unsealed accusing Harris of additional acts that occurred in Florida, Illinois and Texas, People reported. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He changed his plea in February 2022 and pleaded guilty to two of the seven sexual abuse and child pornography charges, according to the magazine. As part of his plea agreement, the other charges were dropped, according to The New York Times.
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