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Jerry Harris, former "Cheer" star, sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for sex crimes

Former "Cheer" star Jerry Harris was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to sex crimes involving minors, CBS Chicago reports. He will also spend eight years on court-supervised release.

Harris pleaded guilty in February to a child pornography charge after persuading a minor to send him sexually explicit photographs in exchange for money. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of traveling for illicit sex with minors, stemming from a trip he took to Florida for the purpose of "engaging in illicit sexual conduct" with a 15-year-old, The Associated Press reports. 

Jerry Harris attends the Build Series to discuss "Cheer" on January 29, 2020, in New York City. Jim Spellman/Getty Images

A plea agreement led prosecutors to drop five other federal counts brought against Harris.

At his sentencing hearing, Harris apologized to his victims, saying his actions were "wrong and selfish," according to a statement released by his lawyer.

"I do not deserve forgiveness, but I do pray that one day you might find it in your hearts," Harris added.

The 22-year-old has been held in a federal detention facility without bond since he was arrested in September 2020. 

Born Jeremiah Harris, he rose to fame when he and his teammates were featured in the Emmy-winning docuseries "Cheer," which follows the lives of the Navarro cheer squad. Harris even attended the Academy Awards in 2020 as a personality for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

However, following a lengthy FBI investigation, he was arrested in September 2020 and charged with one count of producing child pornography. 

The federal complaint alleged Harris contacted a minor in 2018 and requested "face" and "booty" pictures, even after the minor told him he was 13 years old. In the complaint, the minor said he sent Harris dozens of photos over more than a year. The minor also told investigators that Harris cornered him in a bathroom at a cheerleading competition and tried to solicit him for oral sex. 

The minor refused, and Harris allegedly made the same request at another competition three months later. According to the complaint, Harris blocked the minor on Snapchat in February 2020, one month after "Cheer" was released on Netflix, and sent him a message saying, "I'm sorry for what I've done in the past. I don't think it's a good idea that we be friends on snap." 

A second minor, who is the first minor's twin, also accused Harris of requesting nude photos. 

In the complaint, investigators said Harris admitted to multiple allegations, including asking for nude photos, trying to solicit oral sex at cheerleading events and receiving child pornography from 10 to 15 other children he knew were underage. 

In December 2020, Harris was indicted on seven additional counts that alleged he solicited sex from minors at cheerleading competitions and worked to get young boys to send him photographs and videos. 

In the latest season of "Cheer," the two minors listed in the first federal complaint revealed themselves as twin cheerleaders Charlie and Sam. Both twins described being hesitant to speak out against Harris because of his growing popularity, but Charlie said that after watching him speak with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in a June 2020 interview, he "lost it" and knew he had to do something. 

"I want to show to the world, give people a face to, when they think of Jerry Harris, what he did," Charlie said. 

"This was not just a handful of times that this happened," Kristen, Charlie and Sam's mother, told CBS Chicago. "He was an incredibly persistent predator that forced himself into the center of my sons' lives for over a year."

Sarah Klein, a lawyer representing the victims, said that Harris' sentence "reflects the severity of his crimes and the lifetime of pain his victims will suffer."

"Charlie and Sam demonstrated tremendous courage in sharing their painful experiences with prosecutors and the public," Klein added. "Their sacrifice will protect children they have never met."   

Harris faced a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison. Prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence, while attorneys for Harris wanted a sentence of six years, according to AP.

Zoe Christen Jones contributed reporting.

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