Jerry Harris of ‘Cheer’ pleads guilty to sex crimes involving minors

Jerry Harris, who rose to fame on the Netflix reality show ‘Cheer,’ pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal charges related to soliciting child sexual abuse images and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, quashing his earlier plea.

More than a year ago, Mr Harris, 22, pleaded not guilty to the seven felony charges against him in Chicago. But in a remote hearing on Thursday, he told Judge Manish S. Shah he had reached a plea deal with prosecutors and was pleading guilty to two of those counts, which involved charges that he had persuaded a 17-year-old to send her sexually explicit. photos for cash and traveled to Florida “for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct” with a 15-year-old.

The plea agreement stipulates that after the two counts are convicted, prosecutors would seek to have the remaining charges dropped, Judge Shah said during the hearing.

Lawyers for Mr. Harris released a statement saying that Mr. Harris wanted to ‘take responsibility for his actions and publicly express his remorse for the harm he caused to the victims’.

Mr. Harris, whose enthusiastic encouragement from his teammates made him a viral star after the debut of “Cheer”, had himself been sexually abused as a child in the world of competitive cheerleading, the statement said.

“With no safe haven to discuss his exploitation, Jerry instead masked his trauma and displayed the bright face and infectious smile the world has come to know,” the statement read. “As we now know, Jerry himself became a delinquent as a teenager.”

Kelly Guzman, a prosecutor in the case, told the hearing that one of the charges Mr Harris pleaded guilty to was receiving and attempting to receive child pornography. In the summer of 2020, she said, Mr Harris repeatedly asked a 17-year-old to send him sexually explicit photos and videos, in exchange for a total of around $3,000. .

The other charge involved Mr Harris traveling from Texas to Florida with the intent to engage in unlawful sex with a 15-year-old, Ms Guzman said. Mr Harris ordered the teenager to meet him in a public restroom in Orlando, Florida, where he sexually assaulted him, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Harris said he understood the nature of the charges and possible prison terms before entering his guilty plea.

Mr Harris was arrested and charged with producing child pornography in September 2020, months after the release of ‘Cheer’, which follows a champion national cheerleading team from a small-town Texas community college. .

Around the same time, he was sued by teenage twin brothers who said he had sent them sexually explicit messages, requested nude photos and solicited sex from them. (Mr Harris befriended the boys when they were 13 and he was 19, USA Today reported.)

During a voluntary interview with authorities in 2020, Mr Harris admitted to exchanging sexually explicit photos on Snapchat with at least 10 to 15 people he knew were underage and having sex with a 15-year-old girl during from a cheerleading pageant in 2019, according to a criminal complaint.

After federal agents interviewed other minors who said they had affairs with Mr. Harris, they filed further felony charges against him. The charges Mr. Harris did not plead guilty to on Thursday include four counts of child sexual exploitation and one count of incitement. The seven counts involve five underage boys.

Mr. Harris has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago since his arrest.

A second-season episode of “Cheer,” which aired last month, centers on the case against Mr. Harris and includes interviews with the teenage plaintiffs, former teammates of Mr. Harris and the coach of the team, Monica Aldama, about the charges. .

Mr. Harris will be sentenced on June 28. The plea agreement said the sentencing guidelines “could recommend 50 years in prison” for the offenses, Judge Shah said, adding that he could rule differently.

The statement from Mr Harris’ lawyers says he attended therapy in prison and “will spend the rest of his life making up for what he has done”.

Robert Chiarito contributed report.

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