Former ‘Cheer’ Star Jerry Harris Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison in Child Sexual Abuse Imagery Case
The 22-year-old breakout star of the hit Netflix docuseries was convicted of soliciting graphic content from minors.EntertainmentEntertainment
Jerry Harris, the former college cheerleader, who skyrocketed to fame as one of the breakout stars of the hit Netflix docuseries Cheer, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for crimes that include soliciting sex and graphic content from minors. As part of his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also ordered that Harris serve eight years of court-supervised probation upon his release from prison.
Harris was facing up to 60 years; the prosecution asked for 15, and Harris’s attorneys fought for six. Over 80 character references, including one from Navarro College cheerleading coach Monica Aldama, were submitted on his behalf, according to USA Today. His team said that he’d been sexually abused at age 13, according to the New York Times, arguing that that had given him a “skewed version of what he understood to be appropriate relationships.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelley Guzman acknowledged Harris’ troubled past but
wrote in a sentencing memorandum that it still doesn’t excuse his actions and that it can’t be used as “a blank check to commit sex offenses against minors.” She also added that “Harris used his celebrity and wealth to continue his exploitation of children, expanding the tools available to him to manipulate them into gratifying his seemingly insatiable sexual desires.”
Cheer premiered on Netflix in 2020 and documented the life of the award-winning squad, and their renowned cheer coach Monica Aldama, in the small town of Corisicana, Texas. Harris became an overnight star and was quickly catapulted to A-list status with his uncanny talent and undeniable charisma. He was featured on Elle.com, in magazines like Vanity Fair, and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, for which he attended the Vanity Fair Oscars Party as a correspondent.
Harris was arrested in Chicago in September 2020 on one count of production of child pornography. The FBI had raided Harris’ home after allegations that the then-20-year-old was soliciting sexually explicit photos from 14-year-old twin brothers. At the time of his arrest, Harris’s spokesperson issued a statement denying the allegations, “We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager. We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”
By December 2020, Harris had been indicted on more misconduct charges in Florida, Illinois, and Texas. He eventually admitted to the FBI that he’d asked a teen boy to send him lewd photographs, according to the indictment, and had also requested pornographic photos and videos from at least 10 to 15 minors on Snapchat.
The second season of Cheer premiered in December 2021, and Episode 5, simply titled “Jerry,” was dedicated to the allegations against Harris. Coach Aldama, who served as a mentor to Harris, tearfully recounted finding out about the news while backstage at Dancing With The Stars.“We had a team meeting that night, and it really felt like a funeral,” she said in the episode. Former teammate and close friends Gabi Butler recalled feeling “like someone had died” the moment she found out. But the real focus of the episode centered on the harrowing testimonies of two of Harris’s underage victims, twins Charlie and Sam, who were accompanied by their mother, Kristen, and attorney, Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who was a victim of Larry Nassar.
“I regret my decisions and I am deeply sorry. All I can do going forward is to try to do better and be a better person,” Harris said in a statement following his sentencing. “I do not deserve forgiveness, but I do pray that one day you might find it in your hearts.”
Shah told Harris that the sentence should be considered an “expression of the seriousness of your crimes,” according to the Associated Press. “Tempered with some hope that all is not lost for you or for your victims, and that in the future some healing can occur.”