Prosecutors seek 15 years for former ‘Cheer’ star Harris
CHICAGO (AP) — A prosecutor has asked a federal judge to sentence Jerry Harris, a former star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to 15 years in prison for coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions.
Attorneys for Harris are seeking a sentence of six years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Guzman wrote in a sentencing memo late Wednesday that Harris used “his status as a competitive cheerleader, his social media persona, and eventually his celebrity and money, to persuade and entice his young victims to engage in sexually explicit conduct for him or with him.”
Guzman also requested the sentence include 10 years of supervised release after the prison term.
Harris, 22, of suburban Naperville, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count each of receiving child pornography and traveling with the intention to engage in illegal sexual conduct. He is due to be sentenced July 6 by U.S. District Judge Manish Shah.
Defense attorneys, in asking that a six-year sentence be followed by eight years of supervised release, described Harris as “both victimizer and victim,” saying he was sexually assaulted himself when he was a child.
“The trauma he experienced as a child normalized his skewed version of what he understood to be appropriate relationships. No one was there to stand up for him when he was sexually assaulted as a minor. He is grateful that is not the case for his victims in this case, to whom he is profoundly remorseful.” defense attorneys wrote.
Federal prosecutors acknowledged the actor’s traumatic childhood was a mitigating factor in his crimes, but said “while Harris’s childhood was very difficult, it was not a blank check to commit sex offenses against minors.”
Harris remains in custody at a federal detention facility.
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.
According to a complaint, federal prosecutors said that Harris admitted to repeatedly asking a minor teen for pornographic videos and images between December 2018 and March 2020.
Then in December of that year, he was indicted on more charges alleging misconduct in Illinois, Florida and Texas. 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.
Harris admitted to FBI agents to asking a teenage boy to send him lewd photographs of himself, and to requesting child pornography on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 others he knew to be minors, according to the indictment.
“Cheer” was a huge success when it was released in January 2020 and Harris became wildly popular for his upbeat attitude and his encouraging “mat talk.” Harris even interviewed celebrities on the red carpet at the Academy Awards for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
The docuseries follows the competitive cheerleading squad from Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.