"Former tennis star Bob Hewitt convicted of rapes, assault; South African court case developed after player he coached in Mass. came forward" by Bob Hohler, Globe Staff March 23, 2015
Once the toast of the tennis world, deposed hall of famer Bob Hewitt Monday was convicted in South Africa of raping two girls and indecently assaulting another he was entrusted to coach in the 1980s and 1990s.
Hewitt, 75, showed little emotion while the verdict was read. He could face 10 years or more in prison.
“I finally feel free,’’ Suellen Sheehan, a plaintiff, said by phone from Johannesburg after the verdict. Hewitt was found guilty of raping her in 1980, when she was 12.
“I lost so much because of him, but in my heart I have already forgiven him,’’ she said. “He knows exactly what he did to us. He’s a very troubled man.’’
Sheehan wept as Judge Bert Bam delivered the verdict, ruling the evidence against Hewitt was “overwhelming’’ on every count.
Hewitt had maintained his innocence, and depicted the three victims as spiteful publicity-seekers.
The case stems from a 2011 Globe investigation triggered by a former Massachusetts high school tennis champion, Heather Crowe Conner. She alleged that Hewitt began raping her in 1976 when she was a 15-year-old student at Masconomet Regional High School and he was coaching her after his stint with the Boston Lobsters.
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In his heyday, Hewitt became one of the all-time greatest doubles players, a 15-time Grand Slam champion in the 1960s and ’70s. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992.
His legacy began to unravel after Conner, emotionally traumatized long after the alleged abuse, came forward in 2011. Conner was not part of the South Africa case decided Monday because the alleged crimes in her case occurred in the United States.
“I’m happy for the South African girls and the effort it took for them to get this verdict,’’ said Conner, a teacher at Reading Memorial High School. “But a part of me is feeling left out because he should be facing many more charges. It feels like he is getting a good deal by not having to face all the punishment he deserves.’’
The judge’s guilty verdict Monday came even though Sheehan’s estranged parents testified against her. But the judge rejected their accounts and chastised them for failing to support their daughter.
Hewitt also was convicted of raping Theresa (Twiggy) Tolken in 1982 when she was 13 years old and of indecently assaulting another 16-year-old girl in 1994. The third victim initially permitted the Globe to use her name but has asked not to be identified in the judicial proceedings.
Among the most damaging evidence against Hewitt were love letters he gave Tolken around the time she was raped.
“In all three cases, the victims were gullible young girls in their early teens when the accused started coaching them,’’ Bam said in announcing the verdict. “All three were overwhelmed by the presence and reputation of the accused and the high esteem he was held in.’’
In the rape cases, Bam said, Hewitt “manipulated the girls to get them under his spell, and after they had fallen in love with him, he proceeded to have intercourse with them without needing their express consent.’’
Hewitt was released on bail until his sentencing April 17.
The Globe review found six women who publicly identified themselves as Hewitt’s alleged victims. Numerous others were cited as possible victims but either declined to be interviewed or could not be reached.
Those who aided the Globe’s investigation included several male tennis players from Hewitt’s era who remained mystified that he had avoided prosecution at the time.
None of the sport’s governing bodies took formal action against Hewitt until the International Tennis Hall of Fame conducted its own investigation in 2012 and indefinitely suspended him. He is expected to be formally expelled from the hall once he has exhausted any appeals.
Conner became a national collegiate champion at Indiana University in 1982 and later competed as a professional against the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova before she retired at 27 in 1988. She sought criminal charges against Hewitt in 2010.
A spokesman for Essex County prosecutors said in 2011 that Conner “certainly is credible,’’ but a criminal investigation based on her allegations had stalled largely because so much time had passed since the alleged episodes and because of Hewitt’s foreign location.
Conner last year filed a civil suit in Boston against Hewitt.
“There still is no justice for what he did to me,’’ she said Monday. “I’ve been experiencing what he did to my life ever since then. Youthful, hope-filled innocence never can be recovered.’’
In South Africa, the judge seemed to echo Conner’s sentiment.
“Time did not erase the crimes,’’ Bam said. “A guilty person should not go unpunished.”
Not to defense Hewitt, but war criminals and looting bankers do.
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Why not ask someone who knew him?