Closing arguments next in tennis champion’s rape trial
Theresa Tolken says she told her mother 34 years ago that she had been raped by tennis player Bob Hewitt in his hotel room at a casino resort in South Africa.
He was an international star; a 15-time Grand Slam doubles champion, a Davis Cup winner and Tolken’s coach. She was 13 years old.
The case was not pursued then by police over jurisdiction issues and concerns from Tolken’s parents that their daughter would struggle to face Hewitt in court.
Now in her 40s, Tolken was one of three women to testify last month that they were sexually abused by Hewitt when they were minors and coached by him in the 1980s and 1990s, allegations that have taken decades to reach a court for Tolken.
“What Hewitt did to me … is embedded in my head for the rest of my life,” she testified, according to the South African Press Association, as the 75-year-old Hewitt sat in the courtroom.
Following two weeks of testimony in a Johannesburg court in February, closing arguments in the former Hall of Fame member’s rape and sexual assault trial are to start Monday.
Hewitt’s second accuser, Suellen Sheehan, testified that Hewitt raped her in his car before tennis practice in 1982 when she was 12. A third woman said he sexually assaulted her from the age of 14 during coaching sessions in the 1990s. Some of them say other girls were abused.
The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Tolken and Sheehan agreed to be named.
The Australia-born Hewitt pleaded not guilty to the charges and said his reputation had been ruined by what he called the false accusations. His wife and even the parents of one of his accusers have defended him, testifying that there was no abuse.
“If this had happened, this case would have taken place some 30-odd years ago,” said Judy Sheehan, mother of Suellen Sheehan.
She said her daughter was lying and had once falsely accused her own father of rape.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame found enough credibility in the allegations to indefinitely suspend Hewitt from the institution in 2012 following its own investigation, removing any reference it had to one of the game’s greatest doubles players. The hall said it stopped short of expelling Hewitt, who won doubles and mixed doubles titles at all four Grand Slams, because it needed a criminal conviction for that.
South African authorities charged Hewitt in 2013. But at the trial, prosecutors could offer little physical evidence from the decades-old cases.
Hewitt testified and especially attacked Sheehan’s story. He claimed an alibi, saying he was in Europe working as a commentator at tennis tournaments at the time. He also said Sheehan’s description of the soft-top sports car she said she was raped in doesn’t match the car he owned. His lawyer pointed out other apparent inconsistencies, including media interviews where Sheehan said she was raped by him when she was 9. She testified that she was 12.
Hewitt described Tolken’s claim that he once forced her to perform oral sex on him in a car on the side of a road as unlikely as he would have been caught, and he said he can’t have sexually assaulted the third girl at tennis practice because her mother was present at the sessions.
Yet when cross-examined, Hewitt sometimes struggled to explain letters he wrote to Tolken when she was 12 and 13, and asked her to destroy after reading. Tolken kept them for more than 30 years.
Hewitt wrote: “I can only think you think of me as a sex maniac. I am not,” and “I can’t, of course, hold you or kiss you as this has to come from you,” according to excerpts read out in court. One letter said: “My love, feelings and desires remain the same.”
Hewitt said the first message referred to an incident when Tolken saw the married Hewitt flirting with some women. Others only displayed his fatherly affection for her, he said. His “desires” referred to tennis, he testified. The prosecutor also questioned Hewitt over conversations he had with the young Tolken about boys and sex, asking if they were not inappropriate.
Hewitt conceded they might have been, but said “it’s the way I am. I like to help people if I can. That’s just the nature of the beast.”