Disgraced tennis great Bob Hewitt, whose child sex convictions in South Africa stemmed from a Globe series that first focused on his alleged rape of a former Massachusetts high school tennis star, was granted parole Tuesday after serving 3½ years of a six-year prison sentence.
Hewitt, 80, was expelled from the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016 after he was found guilty of raping two young South African girls he coached in the 1980s and 1990s and indecently assaulting another.
"The system has failed me again,’’ Olivia Jasriel, one of the victims, told the Globe after she drove 650 miles from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth to attend his hearing and oppose his parole request.
Born Suellen Sheehan, Jasriel changed her name to try to start over after she became a central figure in the Hewitt case, which became a contentious national story in the South African media and criminal justice system.
Hewitt’s parole hearing was held despite a prison lockdown in South Africa triggered by the spread of COVID-19. He was granted early release, on April 24, after his parole bid last year was denied.
Hewitt was one of the greatest doubles players in tennis history, but his fall from grace began in 2011 when Heather Crowe Conner came forward in a Globe story and described the trauma she suffered after he allegedly began raping her when she was 15 and he was coaching her. He had just finished playing for the Boston Lobsters before he began coaching her in Danvers.
"I’m shocked with this news of his parole,’’ Conner said. "He should be serving several life sentences, and he’s been granted parole?’’
In 2015, the US District Court in Boston ordered Hewitt to pay Conner $1.2 million in damages because of the alleged sexual assaults. Judge Denise J. Casper, in the first use of a Massachusetts law extending the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases, found that Hewitt had repeatedly raped Conner over four years. The judge ordered Hewitt to pay $1 million for Conner’s emotional distress and $200,000 for her past and future mental health care.
The order later was vacated because Hewitt was not properly served with court documents under South African law. Conner said she is trying to renew the case.
"It seems like I don’t matter,’’ she said. "It seems like other women don’t matter. How flipped upside-down this world is.’’
Conner, 58, was a state singles champion at Masconomet Regional High School and later a national champion at Indiana University, where she is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. She later played on the professional circuit. She recently retired from teaching at Reading Memorial High School.
Hewitt, a native Australian, won 15 major titles, including the Grand Slam events, in both men’s and mixed doubles. He played with or against the likes of Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, and Billie Jean King.
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.