A former star of the popular Netflix docuseries "Cheer" pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to sex crime charges.
Jerry Harris, 22, of Naperville, Illinois, pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography and engaging in interstate travel for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15.
Harris, who appeared in the first season of "Cheer," faced several other sexual misconduct charges. As part of his plea agreement, he admitted to the rest of the charges as stipulated offenses.
Harris will be sentenced on June 28. He faces five to 50 years in prison.
Allegations against Harris, who was a breakout star of the first season of "Cheer," first came to light in September 2020, when he was arrested and charged with one count of producing child pornography.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago alleged that Harris enticed an underage boy to produce and send sexually explicit videos and photographs of himself.
The complaint also stated that the boy, who said that he was first contacted by Harris in December 2018, informed Harris during a conversation on social media that he was 13 years old at the time. Harris was accused in the complaint of also making similar requests to the boy's twin brother.
The brothers, who are competitive cheerleaders, and their mother, also filed a lawsuit in Texas against Harris; Varsity Brands, a company that supports the cheerleading industry; the U.S. All Star Federation and the Cheer Athletics gym where Harris cheered over the allegations.
Following the plea hearing, an attorney representing the brothers said they are "grateful that the U.S. Attorney and the FBI investigated this case, located additional victims and took action."
"Now, Jerry Harris' guilt has been firmly established," attorney Sarah Klein said in a statement. "We now urge the authorities to undertake a thorough investigation of the United States All Star Federation, Varsity Spirit, and Cheer Athletics to determine which of their executives, employees, and representatives could have stopped Harris' abuse and failed to do so."
The mother of the boys said the guilty plea "gives me hope that the pain and grief that my sons have suffered as a result of speaking up has not been in vain."
"I will continue my mission to hold Jerry Harris and his enablers fully accountable both in the courts of law and the court of public opinion," their mother, Kristen, whose last name has been withheld for privacy reasons, said in a statement.
Harris's attorney, Todd Pugh, said in a statement following the hearing that Harris "wishes to take responsibility for his actions and publicly convey his remorse for the harm he has caused the victims in this case," and claimed Harris was a victim of sexual abuse himself.
"Jerry is a 22-year-old young man whose story can only be understood through the lens of the extreme poverty, sexual abuse, and neglect of his childhood," Pugh said. "The criminal conduct in this case also took place in the context of a competitive Cheer Community where inappropriately sexualizing and sexually abusing children was far too common and too often overlooked. Jerry was himself exploited, manipulated, and sexually abused as a child within the Cheer Community in a way that perversely made him believe that this sexual conduct was somehow normal when it was not."
Harris has been in federal prison since his arrest. During that time, he has sought treatment for the "diagnosed trauma disorders for which he suffers," his attorney said.
"With his plea of guilty, Jerry will spend the rest of his life making amends for what he has done," Pugh said. "His hope is that he can demonstrate to those harmed by his conduct that he can one day earn back his value to them as a human being and that as he continues to become an adult, he can indeed make a contribution that matters."
Harris was a breakout star on the first season of "Cheer," an Emmy-winning docuseries about the cheerleading team from Navarro College in Texas that premiered in January 2020.
The second season of "Cheer," which was released on Netflix last month, addressed the allegations head-on in episode 5, titled "Jerry." His teammates recalled their shock at hearing about his arrest, and the episode included an interview with the twin brothers who first came forward about Harris and their mother.
"I want to be the start of the change in cheer," one of the brothers, Charlie, said in the episode.