Former Cheer star Jerry Harris will go to prison for 12 years for coercing adolescent boys to send him sexually explicit photos and soliciting sex from minors. The judge handed down the sentence in a Chicago federal court on Wednesday after a lengthy hearing. Prosecutors sought 15 years while Harris's attorneys asked for a sentence of six years. The 22-year-old reality star faced up to 50 years in prison.
Harris, the breakout star of Netflix's first season of Cheer, struck a deal with prosecutors earlier this year after denying wrongdoing. Although he was charged with seven federal crimes, he ultimately pleaded guilty to two: receipt of child sexual abuse material and one count of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. Harris paid a 17-year-old to send him sexually explicit photos and also traveled to Florida "for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct" with a 15-year-old boy.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors said 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." They requested the sentence include 10 years of supervised release after the prison term.
The defense team called Harris "both victimizer and victim," telling the judge he was sexually assaulted 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," Harris's lawyers wrote in their letter.
Harris was beloved by viewers — and celebrities — when Cheer debuted in Jan. 2020. He hosted the Oscars red carpet as a correspondent for The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Seven months later, USA Today revealed Harris was under investigation by the FBI for sex crimes involving minors. The scandal was addressed on Season 2 of Cheer. Harris has been behind bars since his arrest in Sept. 2020.