Judge rules ‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris to remain jailed on child pornography charges

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Judge rules ‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris to remain jailed on child pornography charges

Via www.chicagotribune.com

A federal judge ruled Friday that “Cheer” star Jerry Harris is a danger to the community and will remain behind bars pending trial on charges of coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions.

Harris, 21, of Naperville, has been in federal custody since his arrest last month on child pornography charges. His attorneys had asked U.S. District Judge Heather McShain to release him on home detention under the supervision of several “cheer moms” who agreed to monitor him and keep him from using the internet.

But McShain on Friday said the crime Harris is accused of is “extremely serious” and noted that he allegedly admitted to the FBI to sexual misconduct involving five to 10 victims.

The judge also said she was concerned about allegations that Harris continued to reach out to young boys over the internet even after he learned he learned law enforcement was asking questions about his conduct.

“Upon learning of the investigation, (Harris) dumped his cellphone, obtained a new cellphone and continued with his same course of conduct,” McShain said. “That reveals behavior that the defendant cannot or is unwilling to control.”

The hearing was interrupted when somebody participating by telephone started talking without his phone on mute. During the break, other people on the line started speaking to Harris, who was listening in from the Metropolitan Correctional Center. One woman said, “Love you kiddo. No matter what, stay strong. And know that you are loved.” Harris replied, “I love you too.”

The woman continued, telling Harris, “We’re gonna fight this and we’re gonna stand in your corner and never leave your side. Forever, always, no matter what.”

McShain’s decision came after a lengthy detention hearing Wednesday when the mother of two of Harris’ alleged victims pleaded with the judge to keep Harris locked up.

The woman — whose complaint to authorities about Harris’ alleged abuse of her twin 14-year-old sons sparked the criminal investigation — said to release Harris now would be a slap in the face of the bravery her boys have shown.

“Mr. Harris should not be residing in a home, sleeping in a comfortable bed, and being taken care of by a group of cheer moms while my children are paying a very high price for telling the truth,” the mother said, participating in the hearing via telephone.

In a motion arguing for release, Harris’ attorneys said the competitive cheerleading world he grew up in exposes younger children to the sexual experiences of older ones and has its own deep-rooted dangers.

“In the early years of Mr. Harris’ life, he was fully immersed into the ‘cheer’ world where sexual predators were largely unchecked with children of all ages,” Harris’ lead attorney, Todd Pugh, wrote in a filing Wednesday.

At the time of Harris’ alleged wrongdoing, Pugh said, the star “was in most respects a child himself interacting with other children.”

Harris was charged in a criminal complaint in September with production of child pornography and faces a mandatory minimum 15 years behind bars if convicted.

Harris’ attorneys have not yet addressed the charges directly, and he has not entered a plea in the case. He has denied similar allegations made in a civil suit through a spokesperson.

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