Cheer’s Jerry Harris Sentenced To 12 Years Behind Bars Over Child Sexual Abuse Charges
Cheer’s Jerry Harris has been jailed for coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions.
He has been sentenced to 12 years in prison followed by eight years of supervised release.
Here’s what we know about the verdict and what led to it.
Who is Jerry Harris?
Harris shot to fame in the Netflix documentary Cheer.
The series follows Navarro College’s competitive cheerleading team on the competition circuit.
Now aged 22, he’s been in custody in Chicago for almost two years while awaiting trial and sentencing.
How did we get here?
Harris was arrested in September 2020 on a charge of production of child pornography.
Prosecutors alleged at the time that he solicited videos and images from two 14-year-old brothers after a complaint was filed.
A few months later Harris was indicted on more charges in Illinois, Florida and Texas alleging misconduct.
According to the indictment, Harris allegedly solicited sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and convinced teenage boys to send him obscene photographs and videos of themselves.
Earlier this year, Harris pleaded guilty to one count each of receiving child pornography and travelling with the intention to engage in illegal sexual conduct.
What happened in court?
On Wednesday (local time), US District Judge Manish Shah sentenced Harris to 12 years in prison followed by eight years of court-supervised release.
Prosecutors had pushed for a 15-year sentence, but Judge Shah told Harris to consider the 12-year sentence an “expression of the seriousness of your crimes, tempered with some hope that all is not lost for you or for your victims, and that in the future some healing can occur.”
Sarah Klein, a lawyer for the two brothers who filed a complaint, said in a statement that Harris’s guilt was “firmly established”.
“The sentence he received reflects the severity of his crimes and the lifetime of pain his victims will suffer,” she said.
Before learning his sentence, Harris apologised to his victims, saying he’s “not an evil person”.
“I am deeply sorry for all the trauma my abuse has caused you,” he said.
“I pray deep down that your suffering comes to an end.”
How has Cheer responded to all this?
Local media reports that Harris’s lawyers submitted more than 80 character references to the court, including Navarro’s cheer coach Monica Aldama and other members of the show’s cast.
Screenshots of court documents posted to social media list Morgan Simianer, Terrell “TT” Barker and Mackenzie Sherburn as some of the teammates who made character references for Harris.
John and Deborah Butler, the parents of one of the show’s biggest stars Gabi Butler, were also shown to have submitted a written character letter.
Cheer’s second season, which was released after Harris was first arrested, does address the allegations from the perspective of the team and coach in a dedicated episode.
The teenage twins who first accused Harris of inappropriate behaviour appear in the episode, as does their mother Kristen and lawyer Sarah Klein.
Kristen shared a statement on social media after Harris was sentenced, saying she and her family were “looking forward to some rest and an opportunity to start the healing process”.
In the episode dedicated to the charges, multiple cast members publicly expressed their shock when Harris was first arrested.
“I kind of just sank into a hole and cried,” teammate James Thomas said of hearing about the allegations.
“He never said anything about this stuff to me and like, I could have helped stop or guide him somewhere else. I just kept asking myself questions and I just couldn’t find the right words or the right answer.”