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Former ‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris pleads guilty in federal child pornography case

He was indicted on numerous charges alleging he received and attempted to receive child pornography and persuaded minors to engage in sexual contact.
A close up of Jerry Harris in a black v-neck shirt, unsmiling
Jerry Harris discusses "Cheer" at Build Studio in New York City on Jan. 29, 2020.Jim Spellman / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Jerry Harris, one of the breakout stars of the Netflix series “Cheer,” pleaded guilty Thursday in a federal child pornography case.

Harris, 22, was indicted in December 2020 on numerous charges alleging he received and attempted to receive child pornography and persuaded minors to engage in sexual contact. Prosecutors said the alleged acts involved victims in Florida, Illinois and Texas from August 2017 to August 2020. 

Harris’ change of plea hearing took place Thursday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Manish Shah. He pleaded guilty to two of the counts in the indictment, receiving child pornography and engaging in interstate travel for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with a minor, according to attorneys representing two of the victims.

The victims are twin brothers.

“We 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,” said attorney Sarah Klein.

The brothers’ mother said Harris’ pleading guilty gives her “hope that the pain and grief that my sons have suffered as a result of speaking up has not been in vain.”

“In an effort to put a stop to a serial predator and avert harm to other children, my sons took the brave step of speaking publicly about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Jerry Harris,” the boys’ mother said in a statement. “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.”

Harris was arrested in September 2020 after he was accused of soliciting child pornography images and videos from the two 14-year-old boys on multiple occasions, according to a complaint filed that month.

One of the boys told police that Harris solicited oral sex from him in a bathroom during a cheerleading event they both attended. The complaint alleges that Harris contacted one of the boys on Instagram in 2018, when he was 19 and the boys were 13.

One of the boys said he sent nude pictures to Harris on Snapchat at Harris’ request and began communicating with him on FaceTime, where Harris asked the boy to expose himself. Harris also sent the boy nude pictures and videos, according to the complaint.

The second boy told investigators that Harris was “touchy” and did “odd things” to him and his brother, the complaint alleges. He said Harris would request nude pictures from him and that when the boy refused, Harris would become “pushy” and make him feel guilty, according to the complaint.

Forensic investigations into the boys’ phones showed text messages and Snapchat communications between them and Harris, the complaint says. Harris is alleged to have admitted to investigators during a voluntary interview to having sent and received nude images and to having texted the boys.

The complaint further alleges that a 17-year-old boy told investigators that Harris was “relentless” in soliciting photos from him on Snapchat. He said he turned down Harris repeatedly until Harris offered to pay him money, it says.

Harris is alleged to have told investigators that he had solicited and received nude pictures from 10 to 15 others who he knew were minors, according to the complaint. He is also alleged to have admitted to having oral and anal sex with a 15-year-old in the summer of 2018, the court document states.

Todd Pugh, an attorney for Harris, said Harris pleaded guilty “because he wishes to take responsibility for his actions and publicly convey his remorse for the harm he has caused the victims in this case.”

He went on to say Harris was exploited and sexually abused, and he pointed the finger at the cheerleading community.

“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,” Pugh said in a news release.

“There being no safe harbor to discuss his exploitation, Jerry instead masked his trauma and put on the bright face and infectious smile that the world came to know. As we now know, Jerry became an offender himself as an older teenager,” Pugh said.

Harris has been in jail since his arrest. Pugh said Harris has sought mental health treatment and therapy behind bars. 

Harris appeared on the docuseries “Cheer,” which follows a Texas cheerleading team at Navarro College. Season 2 of the series addressed the allegations against Harris. 

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.