CHICAGO (CBS) — The mother of two alleged victims of Netflix star Jerry Harris provided emotional testimony at a hearing in federal court on Wednesday.
She is trying to keep Harris behind bars.
As CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported, U.S. Magistrate Judge Heather McShain did not rule on Harris’ detention at the hearing and said she likely will not do so Wednesday, so for now, Harris will stay behind bars. The “Cheer” star stands charged with child pornography.
For the first time, the court heard from so-called cheer moms who have offered their support – as well as a mother of two victims who calls the whole situation her “worst nightmare.”
Harris was painted as a late-night predator in court on Wednesday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Parente was graphic in describing the accusations against the 21-year-old.
“We are talking about an adult male, 19, 20, 21 years old, asking children ages of 13, 14, or 15 to bend over so he can sit on his phone or computer and masturbate,” Parente said.
In a hearing that would decide whether Harris’ fate remains behind bars or on home confinement, the judge pressed for more specifics on timelines.
The prosecutor said the location and exact dates might identify some of the underage victims they’re trying to protect because the cheering community “is a small one.”
But the prosecutor did clarify that Harris learned of the investigation and destroyed his cellphone around March or April. Within a matter of weeks of getting a new phone, Harris resumed reaching out to minors, Parente said.
A mother of two victims begged for Harris to stay behind bars.
“For nearly two years, my sons have suffered more than I can describe,” the mother said, calling the aftermath her “worst nightmare” that has robbed her boys of their “innocence” and “joy of the sport” of cheerleading.
The mother said she complained to the organization and local law enforcement in Texas where they live, but it wasn’t taken seriously until the FBI started looking into it.
Moreover, the mother said since Harris’ arrest, she has learned of other alleged attacks that happened in the time she was complaining about him.
In a filing issued on Tuesday, prosecutors said Harris “exploited and violated” at least 10 minor boys over the past two years, by repeatedly asking the boys to send sexually explicit images of themselves. Prosecutors said Harris “targeted young boys by reaching into their bedrooms through his cell phone and used guilt, threats, and money to persuade them to engage in sexually explicit activity which Harris would oftentimes record and masturbate to.”
Harris also admitted to trying to meet all the victims in person, and kept it up even when he was tipped off about a possible investigation into his conduct, prosecutors said.
Law enforcement also recently interviewed another boy who said he was sexually assaulted by Harris inside an unlocked public restroom during a cheer event, prosecutors said. The boy was 15 when Harris followed him into a bathroom and sexually assaulted him, prosecutors said.
“Harris’ sexual assault of this boy in such a public place, in an unlocked public bathroom, during an event attended by dozens of responsible adults demonstrates that Harris either does not care about being caught committing his offenses, or simply cannot stop himself,” prosecutors said in the filing.
Back in court on Wednesday in Harris’ defense, four so-called cheer moms volunteered to act as custodians to Harris should he be released on home confinement. They spoke to his character in the time they have known him.
The cheer moms swore under oath that they would not allow Harris to access any devices.
All four cheer moms who agreed to act as third-party custodians said they’d known Harris for years under different capacities. The judge asked all of them if they’d call the police on Harris if he was found breaking the rules and using a device and they said yes, with one saying, “You can trust and believe if he doesn’t abide by the rules, we will not stand by his side.”
But Parente argued that while he believes the custodian volunteers are well-intended, Harris “should not be given another chance to go back into that community and be supervised by people who were with him and when he did this the first time.”
Meanwhile, defense attorney Todd Pugh said Harris had a trouble childhood – adding that his client was “mocked and bullied” in high school, struggled with his weight, and then lost his mother to cancer.
Pugh also took issue with the concerns about the victims’ privacy and safety, noting that the mother of the two boys who spoke in court on Wednesday also agreed to a USAToday article with her boys in which their first names and faces appeared.
But Parente reiterated that he does not think home confinement is enough for Harris – taking issue with a suggestion that releasing Harris does not propose a danger because the victims whose mother spoke do not live in Illinois.
“To say that releasing him presents zero danger because they’re in a different state misses the point of this case…. His victims are spread out across the country,” Parente said. “Physical distance is nothing to keep Mr. Harris from creeping into their bedrooms, having these little boys expose their body parts so he can have sexual gratification.”
Judge McShain said a decision would be coming soon.
The key thing she needs to decide, she said, is if Harris can present a danger to the community at large while under home confinement under the watch of the volunteer custodians.
Harris is considered a breakout star – a fan favorite on the Netflix show “Cheer.” He has more than 1 million Instagram followers. He even appeared with Oprah Winfrey.
FBI Chicago Field Office Special Agent-in-Charge Emmerson Buie Jr. said last month that a web page has been created at https://www.fbi.gov/jerryharris. On the website, victims can report contact with Harris and find additional victim resources.
Anyone can also report victimization by calling the Chicago Field Office at (312) 421-6700.
Harris faces 15 years behind bars if convicted.