Rapist Bob Hewitt to appeal sentence

2015-05-18 17:15
Bob and Delaille Hewitt in court. (Jennie Evans, News24)

Bob and Delaille Hewitt in court. (Jennie Evans, News24)

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Pretoria - Former tennis star Bob Hewitt narrowly escaped starting his six-year jail stretch on Monday for two rapes and a sexual assault after North Gauteng High Court Judge Bert Bam extended his bail until Tuesday morning for an appeal application.

The 75-year-old former Davis Cup winner sat in the dock with a small black suitcase next to him as Bam sentenced him to eight years each on two counts of raping Theresa "Twiggy" Tolken and Suellen Sheehan.

He coached them in the 1980s.

He also received two years in jail for the sexual assault in the '90s of another then-teen, who can't be named.

In an unusual twist, Bam suspended two years of the eight-year sentences for two years, on condition he pay R100 000 by the last day of the suspension for use by the Department of Justice's programmes to prevent the abuse of women and children.

"The effective period of imprisonment is six years," said Bam.

Suspended from tennis Hall of Fame

It was more than the minimum of five years Prosecutor Carina Coetzee had hoped he would get.

Tolkien and Sheehan, who were surrounded by friends, had listened intently to Bam when he said Hewitt had shown no remorse, and had been more concerned about the gruelling time he and his wife had had after the allegations first surfaced, and during the trial.

In November 2012, the tennis Hall of Fame in the US suspended the Australian-born Grand Slam title winner when they considered the allegations were strong enough. Sheehan was the first to go public.

Hewitt's wife Delaille's earlier plea that he be sent home to help on their citrus farm in the Eastern Cape, and to help her after her treatment for ovarian cancer, was in vain.

"My Lord, I have never had to beg before but I am asking you from the bottom of my heart to please let my husband return to the farm as I could not survive without him," she said through tears.

Earlier the court had heard that although they have R10m in assets their only income is R9 000 from rentals, and R100 000 they hope to clear after being paid R200 000 for an orange export deal.

Bam drew on case law as he considered points such as Hewitt's age, that the rapes had occurred almost 30 years ago, the sexual assault around 20 years ago, and his ailing health.

"It is tragic that a once renowned and highly regarded sportsman who has represented his country across the world has to face reality and the consequences of his past," said Bam.

‘Rape a most serious crime’

He said that at the time of the offences, when he was 41, there was no minimum sentence for rape, but if Hewitt had been convicted in his 50s, he would have received at least a 20-year jail term.

"The courts have emphasised for many years that the crime of rape is most serious,'' said Bam. ''That the complainants were still minors is a most aggravating condition."

He said Hewitt's present health conditions were "material to mercy", but he was not terminally ill, and prisons had health facilities.

''We must remember rape was at the time, and still is, rife in our country."

Hewitt had abused the trust of the children and they had complied and just accepted his advances.

''The accused's relationship with the first and second complainant is comparable with a father and his children. This kind of relationship is one of mutual trust and responsibility,'' said Bam.

He recalled evidence from the trial in which Hewitt had said he had a fatherly feeling towards them because their relationships with their biological fathers were not good and considered the trust relationship with the victims to be ''most aggravating''.

''The accused as he is entitled to do even after conviction, elected to keep on denying the accusations. Accordingly he shows a lack of remorse.''

Bam said remorse was not an aggravating factor, but it would have helped in mitigation.

‘Retribution remains’

In view of Hewitt's age, prevention was not an important feature anymore and there was no prospect of rehabilitation.

"What predominantly remains is retribution," the judge said.

There was no evidence since the assault of 1994 that he had committed any other offences, but he was "clearly very fortunate to have evaded his fate for so long".

Campaigns to prevent the abuse of women and children were constantly being run, but they were ignored by "the likes" of Hewitt.

He said correctional supervision was not viable at his age, and the serious nature of the crime went against it, even if he had been younger. "No rapists should be allowed to hide behind his age."

And with a curt, "Mr Hewitt, you must now please rise," Bam handed down the sentence.

Afterwards, the Hewitts consulted with their lawyers on Tuesday's application, his arm around his wife's shoulder.

When they left, the couple ignored questions put to them.

Read more on:    bob hewitt  |  pretoria  |  crime  |  child abuse

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