‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris sentenced to 12 years in prison by federal judge in Chicago

Harris pleaded guilty in February. He has admitted he offered $2,000 for sexually explicit images from one minor victim, persuaded a second to send him similar images and obtained masturbation videos from a third.

SHARE ‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris sentenced to 12 years in prison by federal judge in Chicago
Jerry Harris in a scene from the Netflix series “Cheer.”

Jerry Harris in a scene from the Netflix series “Cheer.”

Courtesy of Netflix

Jerry Harris, the former star of the Netflix docuseries “Cheer,” was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to child pornography and sex-crime charges involving multiple victims.

As he handed down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Manish Shah told Harris to consider the 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.”

Before he learned his sentence, Harris apologized to his victims, saying, “I am deeply sorry for all the trauma my abuse has caused you. I pray deep down that your suffering comes to an end.”

“I’m not an evil person,” Harris said. “I’m still learning who I am and what my purpose is.”

Twin boys also read statements in court during the sentencing hearing. Both were 13 years old when Harris contacted them over social media seeking nude images and sex.

“You literally preyed on my brother and I like some animal hungry for young children,” said one brother, who said he suffered from crippling anxiety.

“I couldn’t stand up for myself,” said the boy’s brother. “Basically, Jerry took over my life.”

Their mother, who alerted authorities after finding the graphic messages and images while on the phone of one of her sons, described how they feared outing Harris, ruining his “squeaky clean” image and becoming pariahs in the world of competitive cheer.

“He took their innocence,” she said.

Federal prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence, arguing in a memo filed last month that Harris “used what he had at his disposal” to commit his crimes — “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.”

Harris’ attorneys had asked for a six-year prison sentence, writing that “the reality is that [Harris] is both victimizer and victim,” having also been sexually assaulted during his childhood.

Attorneys for Harris on Wednesday emphasized his tough upbringing, which included homelessness, bullying for being obese, watching his mother die of cancer and suffering physical and sexual abuse.

Cynthia Short, an attorney hired by the defense to study and share circumstances that led Harris to prey on children, said in court that Harris began watching online pornography at age 11, and exchanged nude images with an adult he found on Facebook who he thought was the love of his life.

The experiences all combined to stunt Harris’ social and emotional growth, leaving his development several years behind his age, according to Short, and others in Harris’ life who spoke about the issue in a video that was played in court.

Harris pleaded guilty in February. He has admitted he offered $2,000 in payments for sexually explicit images from one minor victim, persuaded a second to send him similar images and obtained masturbation videos from a third. He also admitted he sexually assaulted a fourth minor victim in a public bathroom.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Guzman had written in her sentencing memo that Harris raped that 15-year-old child when Harris was 19 — and she said it happened at a cheerleading competition in Orlando “with thousands of people present.”

The original criminal complaint filed against Harris traced the case against him to a mother’s discovery in February 2020 of a message from Harris on a phone belonging to one of her twin boys, who were competitive cheerleaders.

Defense attorneys Todd Pugh and Joshua Herman rejected in their memo the idea that Harris used his status as a “Cheer” star to prey on minors, writing that “nothing is further from the truth” and that “most of the offense conduct occurred well before the airing of ‘Cheer’ in January of 2020.”

The Latest
41-year-old Rob Heitz is planning the 1-to-2-mile swim Friday. Some 19 years after becoming paralyzed following a freak diving accident in Lake Michigan, he is now mostly recovered.
Cubs first baseman P.J. Higgins provided the bulk of the Cubs’ scoring Wednesday with a two-run home run.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, standing alongside new Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, downplayed the intraparty tension, especially around Sen. Dick Durbin, who wanted Rep. Robin Kelly to remain in the top party post.
The Chicago Air and Water Show, Chicago Ribfest, and Sunday in the Park with Lyric are among the entertainment highlights in the week ahead.
Roquan Smith will be in Seattle with the team, but won’t play. Tight end Cole Kmet and running back David Montgomery likely will return, but it’s unclear how long quarterback Justin Fields will play. And the full offensive line still hasn’t arrived.