Harris, 22, had agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors that, after sentencing on two out of seven counts against him (receiving child pornography and using interstate travel with the intent to elicit a sexual act with a minor), they would ask that the remaining charges be dropped. The agreement came after Harris originally pleaded not guilty to all charges in December 2020.
Federal prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence while the defense had asked for six years, noting that Harris was himself a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Harris will also serve eight years of court-supervised release following his prison term.
U.S. District Judge Manish Shah reportedly told Harris to view the sentence as an "expression of the seriousness of your crimes, tempered with some hope that all is not lost for you or for your victims, and that in the future some healing can occur."
Jim Spellman/Getty Jeremy Harris
The Illinois native was arrested in September 2020, months after the release of the hugely popular Netflix series about a national champion cheerleading team, and charged with producing child pornography. Around the same time, he was also sued by teenage twin brothers who claimed that he sent sexually explicit messages to them, requested nude photos from them, and solicited them for sex. USA Today reported that Harris befriended the boys when they were 13 and he was 19.
The twins both read statements in court during sentencing. "You literally preyed on my brother and I like some animal hungry for young children," one said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"I couldn't stand up for myself," the boy's brother reportedly added. "Basically, Jerry took over my life."
The boys' mother said Harris "took their innocence."
The New York Times reported that, according to a criminal complaint, Harris admitted in a voluntary interview with authorities that he exchanged sexually explicit photos with at least 10 to 15 people he knew to be minors and had sex with a 15-year-old in 2019.
According to the Sun-Times, Harris has also "admitted he offered $2,000 in payments for sexually explicit images from one minor victim, persuaded a second to send him similar images, and obtained masturbation videos from a third. He also admitted he sexually assaulted a fourth minor victim in a public bathroom."
Netflix Jerry Harrs on 'Cheer'
Before his sentence was announced, Harris reportedly apologized to his victims, saying, "I am deeply sorry for all the trauma my abuse has caused you. I pray deep down that your suffering comes to an end." He added, "I'm not an evil person. I'm still learning who I am and what my purpose is."
In presenting their case, Harris' attorneys emphasized their client's traumatic childhood, including physical and sexual abuse, homelessness, bullying, and watching his mother die from cancer.
"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," Harris' attorney Todd Pugh said in a statement to EW in February. "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."