South African judge convicts retired tennis champion of rape

Updated: 2015-03-24 09:51


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South African judge convicts retired tennis champion of rape

Former Grand Slam doubles champion Bob Hewitt look on ahead of court proceedings at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg February 10, 2015. Hewitt pleaded not guilty to two charges of rape and one charge of sexual assault of minors at the court in South Africa on Monday. [Photo/Agencies] 

JOHANNESBURG - A judge in South Africa on Monday convicted Bob Hewitt, a former Grand Slam tennis champion, of raping and sexually assaulting three girls whom he had been coaching. The assaults occurred decades ago, according to the victims who are now grown women.

Judge Bert Bam granted bail of about $840, which Hewitt's wife, Delaille, paid. The judge did not say why the bail amount was so low. A sentencing hearing was scheduled in a Pretoria court for April 17. Until then he must mostly remain in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where he lives, the judge ruled. Hewitt can also visit his daughter, who lives in Johannesburg. Police will confiscate Hewitt's passport from his home on Wednesday.

The charges stemmed from events in the 1980s and 1990s, prosecutors said. Hewitt, who is 75 years old, had denied the charges.

The judge rejected an application by Hewitt's attorney, Terry Price, to postpone sentencing so the defense can prepare a psychologist's report that it plans to use in its argument for leniency at the sentencing hearing.

South African courts have in the past handed down life sentences for, said Velekhaya Mgobhozi, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. There is no statute of limitations for these crimes, he said.

Prosecutor Carina Coetzee told The Associated Press that she does not believe there should be any reduction of sentence because so much time has passed.

One accuser, 45-year-old Suellen Sheehan, laid an accusation of rape against Hewitt in 2011 and was in court for the verdict. She said her former coach raped her in his car before tennis practice when she was 12 years old. The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but Sheehan and another accuser, Theresa Tolken, have agreed to be named.

"He knows what he did and he's had to live with that," Sheehan said.

Tolken, said Hewitt raped her in a hotel room in South Africa when she was 13. A third woman, who has asked not to be identified, said Hewitt sexually assaulted her numerous times during tennis practice in Johannesburg in the early 1990s when she was 16.

Australian-born Hewitt sat with arms crossed and appeared impassive as the judge explained the reasoning behind his verdict. His wife sat nearby.

A South African advocacy group said it does not want Hewitt's advanced age to result in a light sentence.

"This is a case that involves the rape of children, bottom line," said Germaine Vogel, spokeswoman for Woman and Men Against Child Abuse. The group helped two of the three accusers come forward.

The judge said he is satisfied that all three women told the truth. Bam said the striking similarities among the three women's testimonies showed that Hewitt's conduct was calculated, and revealed a pattern of behavior. All three were impressionable young girls, flattered by the attention of a renowned player, according to the judge.

"Their submissiveness in the circumstances should never have been seen as consent," said Bam.

Letters that Hewitt wrote to one of his accusers, Theresa Tolken, were cited in detail as corroborating evidence. The judge said Hewitt had failed to convince him that the letters were only about tennis.

Hewitt was a 15-time Grand Slam doubles champion, winning doubles and mixed doubles titles. He was inducted into the International Hall of Fame, but was suspended indefinitely in 2012 after the Hall of Fame found enough credibility in the sexual assault allegations after its own investigation.