'Cheer' Star Jerry Harris Pleads Guilty in Federal Child Pornography Case

The 22-year-old television personality and former cheerleader was accused in 2020 of sexually abusing underage twin brothers and producing child pornography

jerry harris
Jerry Harris. Photo: Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Jerry Harris, the season one breakout star of docuseries Cheer, pleaded guilty to two out of seven sexual abuse and child pornography charges Thursday, departing from the not guilty plea he entered more than a year ago.

In September 2020, the prominent cheerleader and television personality was sued by teenage brothers, who were 13 and "star struck" when they met him, for allegedly soliciting sex and nude photos from them. The same week, Harris was arrested on suspicion of producing child pornography.

Three months later, in December, a seven-count indictment was unsealed accusing Harris of additional criminal acts that took place in Florida, Illinois and Texas — all involving minors and sexual in nature. He pleaded not guilty to each of the seven charges a week later.

On Thursday, Harris only pleaded guilty to two counts from the indictment: receiving child pornography and crossing state lines for the purpose of engaging in an illicit sexual act with a minor under the age of 15.

As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, the other charges were dropped, The New York Times reported. Sentencing is expected on June 28.

Harris' defense team shared a statement with PEOPLE following his change of plea Thursday, claiming that he made the decision to plead 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."

"Jerry is a 22-year-old young man whose story can only be understood though the lens of the extreme poverty, sexual abuse, and neglect of his childhood," the statement continues. "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."

The statement alleges that Harris did not have a safe place to share his own experiences of being exploited, so he masked his trauma with a "bright face."

Harris rose to prominence when Cheer premiered on Netflix at the start of 2020, and his fan base continued to grow when he made headlines for serving as Ellen DeGeneres' correspondent at the Oscars and providing encouragement during the COVID-19 lockdowns that followed shortly after.

Only a few months into his newfound stardom, the sex crime allegations halted his career.

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The mother of the twin boys involved in the initial suit against Harris released a statement Thursday reacting to the news.

"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," she said. "Harris' admission of guilt today gives me hope that the pain and grief that my sons have suffered as a result of speaking up has not been in vain."

She continued: "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' defense team said in their statement that their client has actively sought out and participated in mental health treatment since his arrest.

"With his plea of guilty, Jerry will spend the rest of his life making amends for what he has done," the statement reads. "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."

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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