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Bob Hewitt expelled from Tennis Hall of Fame

Bob Hewitt was convicted in South Africa of raping two girls he was coaching in tennis.AP

Nearly five years after his victims first appealed for his ouster, former Boston Lobsters star Bob Hewitt was expelled Wednesday from the International Tennis Hall of Fame for raping two girls he coached in the 1980s and sexually assaulting another in the 1990s. He is the first person to be expelled from the Tennis Hall of Fame in its 62-year history.

Hewitt’s expulsion followed a ruling by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals that bars him from appealing his convictions last year on the rapes and assault. He also was ordered by a federal court in Boston last year to pay $1.2 million to Heather Crowe Conner of West Newbury for raping her as a minor when he coached her in the 1970s.

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Hewitt, 76, is free on bail in South Africa as he appeals his six-year sentence for the rapes and assault. The court is scheduled to hear arguments on his appeal May 3.

Hewitt’s victims began petitioning the Hall of Fame to expel him soon after a Globe investigation in 2011 raised allegations that he sexually assaulted or harassed underage girls he trained over three decades. Six women in the United States and South Africa publicly identified themselves as his alleged victims.

The push to expel Hewitt gained momentum after one of the sport’s most celebrated players, Billie Jean King, expressed her disgust over the alleged assaults. She had partnered with Hewitt in 1970 to win the mixed doubles title at the French Open.

Soon after King’s comments, the Hall of Fame commissioned its own investigation of the allegations and indefinitely suspended Hewitt in 2012. His plaque and all references to him were removed from the Hall of Fame gallery, but the administration stopped short of expelling him because he had not been convicted of a crime.

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The suspension effectively ended Hewitt’s 20-year run as a Hall of Famer. He had been enshrined in 1992 after winning 15 Grand Slam championships in doubles and mixed doubles during his 13-year professional career.

Hewitt denied all the criminal charges in South Africa until he was convicted. Then his lawyers requested a lenient sentence because of his age and purported health problems. The judge, Bert Bam, said he considered those factors before sentencing him.

“No rapist or violator of children should be able to hide behind his age,” Bam said.

Hewitt asserted in written documents to the appeals court that his “moral blameworthiness’’ should be “substantially reduced’’ because one girl he raped suffered “no vaginal injuries’’ and because he stopped raping the other girl when she said it hurt. The girls were 12 and 13 at the time.

Prosecutors responded in court filings that Hewitt’s sentence is warranted because of the severity of his crimes and his attitude about them. They wrote that Hewitt “has not shown any remorse or an indication that he has any insight into the harm the crimes have caused the victims.’’

Conner was 14 when Hewitt, fresh off a star turn with the Lobsters, began coaching her at a tennis club in Danvers. He raped her soon after on the grounds of Masconomet Regional High School, where she was a budding star. He was 36.

Conner went on to win a state singles championship and a national collegiate singles title before she played six years professionally against the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

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She later was elected to the Pentucket Regional School Committee. But she became so traumatized by her long-suppressed emotions about the rapes that she resigned and began speaking out about the experience. In doing so, she set the course for Hewitt’s convictions.


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.