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Disgraced tennis star Bob Hewitt convicted of rape

Former grand slam tennis doubles champion Bob Hewitt was outside a Johannesburg court Monday.
Former grand slam tennis doubles champion Bob Hewitt was outside a Johannesburg court Monday.AP/Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — A South African judge has convicted former Grand Slam doubles tennis champion Bob Hewitt of rape and sexual assault decades after the alleged assaults.

Judge Bert Bam said on Monday that he is satisfied that the two women who had accused the veteran tennis player of rape and a third woman who had accused him of sexual assault were telling the truth.

The charges stemmed from events in the 1980s and 1990s, when Hewitt coached the women as young girls. Hewitt, who is 75 years old, denied all three charges.

The judge said the striking similarities among the three victims’ testimonies showed that Hewitt’s conduct was calculated.

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Bam ordered that Australian-born Hewitt should be taken into custody.

Wearing a suit, Hewitt sat with arms crossed and appeared impassive as the judge explained the reasoning behind his verdict for nearly two hours. His wife, Delaille, sat on a chair close to the accused’s bench.

‘‘I still don’t think he thinks he did anything wrong,’’ said 45-year-old Suellen Sheehan, one of Hewitt’s accusers.

Sheehan, who was in court for the verdict, pressed a charge of rape against Hewitt in 2011 for a crime she says he committed in 1980. She said her former coach raped her in his car before tennis practice when she was 12 years old.

A South African group called Women and Men Against Children’s Abuse helped two other accusers come forward and petitioned South African prosecutors until Hewitt was brought to trial this year.

Hewitt was convicted of two alleged rapes that took place in the 1980s, and for a sexual assault that allegedly happened in the 1990s.

Bam said the accounts of the three women who accused Hewitt were consistent and revealed a pattern of behavior by Hewitt.

‘‘There is such a striking similarity between the evidence against the accused and his modus operandi,’’ said Bam.

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All three were gullible 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.

The 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, as Hewitt said.

The allegations against Hewitt were first reported in a six-month investigation by the Boston Globe that involved dozens of interviews both in the United States and in Hewitt’s South African homeland.

The alleged misconduct by Hewitt, who won 15 Grand Slam doubles titles and was a member of the Boston Lobsters tennis team, spanned nearly a decade, with his fame flourishing even as the number of victims rose.

The Globe investigation uncovered allegations that Hewitt sexually abused underage girls he coached, from Greater Boston to South Africa from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Six women publicly identified themselves as alleged victims, and numerous others who were cited as possible victims either declined to be interviewed or could not be reached.

Hewitt, 75, was suspended indefinitely from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012 over the reports of sexual abuse.

More coverage:

Former tennis star, coach Bob Hewitt accused in abuse of young girls

13-year-old sought charges against tennis star in ’81

Editorial: Alleged sex abuse by Bob Hewitt should be investigated

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