Feds want 15 years for former Netflix ‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris in child pornography case – NBC Chicago
Federal prosecutors in Chicago have sought a 15-year prison sentence for Jerry Harris, the former star of the Netflix docuseries ‘Cheer’ who pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of child pornography and sex crimes involving multiple victims .
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Guzman wrote in a sentencing memo Wednesday night that Harris “used what he had at his disposal” to commit his crimes: “her status as a competitive cheerleader, her social media persona , and possibly his fame and money, to persuade and induce his young victims to engage in sexually explicit behavior for or with him.
As a result, one victim became anxious, unable to sleep, suffered panic attacks and developed a fear of public restrooms, Guzman wrote.
But Harris’ attorneys in their memorandum called for a lighter six-year prison sentence, writing that “the reality is that [Harris] is both aggressor and victim”, having also been sexually abused during his childhood.
In their memo, defense attorneys also quoted Harris as saying, “I had to face what I did. I was an adult and took advantage of these teenagers. I was wrong. I have done harm. I was selfish and exploited their weakness. It was all me. I realized that what I had done was wrong, that it was wrong and that I’m really sorry about it. And I’m ashamed of myself.
Harris attorneys Todd Pugh and Joshua Herman wrote that Harris had been “the target of inmate exploitation” in prison, in part because of his public profile.
Harris pleaded guilty in February and is expected to be sentenced on July 6 by U.S. District Judge Manish Shah. Harris admitted he offered $2,000 in payments for sexually explicit images of an underage victim, persuaded one second to send her similar images, and obtained masturbation videos from a third. He also admitted to sexually assaulting a fourth underage victim in a public restroom.
Guzman wrote that Harris raped the 15-year-old when Harris was 19 — and she said it happened at a cheerleading competition in Orlando “with thousands in attendance.”
The prosecutor also wrote that Harris destroyed his phone when he learned he was under investigation in May 2020. But then, she said, he bought a new phone and contacted another miner looking for explicit photos and videos.
The original criminal complaint filed against Harris traced the case against him back 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.
Pugh and Herman dismissed in their memo the idea that Harris was using his “Cheer” star status to prey on minors, writing that “nothing could be further from the truth” and that “most offenses took place long before ‘Cheer’ aired in January 2020.”
But Guzman argued that “although the Netflix series brought him greater fame, Harris had become a respected and influential figure in his sport long before that TV show aired. Harris was an older, more experienced athlete on illustrious elite competitive teams, following social media and coaching younger, less experienced athletes.