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Former Grand Slam tennis champ convicted of rape

Decades ago, Bob Hewitt raped and sexually assaulted three girls whom he had been coaching in Australia.

A JUDGE in South Africa yesterday convicted

Bob Hewitt,

a former Grand Slam tennis champion, of raping and sexually assaulting three girls whom he had been coaching. The assaults occurred decades ago, according to the victims who are now grown women.

Judge Bert Bam granted bail of about $840, which Hewitt's wife, Delaille, paid. The judge did not say why the bail amount was so low. A sentencing hearing was scheduled in a Pretoria court for April 17. Until then he must mostly remain in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where he lives, the judge ruled. Hewitt can also visit his daughter, who lives in Johannesburg. Police will confiscate Hewitt's passport from his home tomorrow.

The charges stemmed from events in the 1980s and 1990s, prosecutors said. Hewitt, who is 75 years old, had denied the charges.

The judge rejected an application by Hewitt's attorney, Terry Price, to postpone sentencing so the defense can prepare a psychologist's report that it plans to use in its argument for leniency at the sentencing hearing.

South African courts have in the past handed down life sentences in such cases, said Velekhaya Mgobhozi, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority. There is no statute of limitations for these crimes, he said.

Prosecutor Carina Coetzee told the Associated Press that she does not believe there should be any reduction of sentence because so much time has passed.

One accuser, 45-year-old Suellen Sheehan, laid an accusation of rape against Hewitt in 2011 and was in court for the verdict. She said her former coach raped her in his car before tennis practice when she was 12 years old. The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but Sheehan and another accuser, Theresa Tolken, have agreed to be named.

"He knows what he did and he's had to live with that," Sheehan said.

A South African advocacy group said it does not want Hewitt's advanced age to result in a light sentence.

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