SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by former Grand Slam tennis champion Bob Hewitt on Thursday and ruled he must serve a six-year jail sentence for the rapes and sexual assaults of young girls he coached decades ago.
A panel of three judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal said in a written judgment that the prison sentence given to Hewitt at the end of his trial was appropriate and fits "the criminal and the crime."
Hewitt, now 76, was convicted and sentenced last year. The Supreme Court judges said he "showed no remorse for his vile deeds."
He was found guilty of raping two girls and sexually assaulting a third in the 1980s and 1990s. The victims were minors at the time of the assaults. They are now grown women who had to wait more than two decades for justice.
Hewitt "exploited the complainants' innocence and youth and forced them to submit to his wicked desires. He abused his position of authority and responsibility towards them," the Supreme Court judges wrote.
His standing as a "tennis icon" had no bearing on the case, the appeal court said, and his "celebrated status does not therefore earn him a special sentence."
The Australia-born Hewitt won 15 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles, and played occasionally with greats Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe. He also won the Davis Cup with South Africa in 1974 after moving to the country and taking on citizenship.
He has been held under a form of house arrest at his farm in southern South Africa since his conviction.
Hewitt has 48 hours to report to jail, said a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Luvuyo Mfaku.
"His appeal has not succeeded and Bob Hewitt will be in jail for six years," Eyewitness News quoted Miranda Friedman of Women and Men against Child Abuse as saying. "It is a massive victory for children all over the world who were abused and raped, who have now come forward as adults."
Citing his age and poor health, Hewitt's lawyers argued that a form of house arrest would be an appropriate sentence. Hewitt also argued that the rapes were not "brutal" and he stopped assaulting one victim when she complained.
The United States-based International Tennis Hall of Fame this year expelled Hewitt as a member. At least one other woman in the U.S. has accused him of raping her when he was her coach years ago.