Former coach at Parktown Boys’ High, Rex Collins, covering his face after appearing at the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court. Collins is facing more than 300 charges of rape, sexual assault and attempted murder.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

He may have effectively pleaded guilty to 144 charges of sexual assault, but the sentencing of the Parktown Boys water polo coach - accused of molesting 23 pupils - will be a tricky decision for the court. 

This week, Collin Rex initially pleaded not guilty to the 327 charges against him, but then released a plea statement to the High Court sitting in Palm Ridge where he admitted to sexually assaulting 12 of the complainants on 144 counts.

Among the admissions, the 22-year-old admitted that he subjected the pupils - aged between 13 and 16 - to dozens of incidents of simulated intercourse and genital touching, all of which, he admitted, constituted sexual assault.

Acting Judge Peet Johnson immediately informed Rex and his lawyer, advocate William Robertse, that this was effectively pleading guilty to the 144 charges, which both accepted.

The former teacher is still facing a further 183 charges ranging from rape, sexual assault, attempted murder, showing pornography to minors and sexual grooming, all relating to incidents during his short tenure at the school between 2015 and 2016.

Sources close to the investigation revealed to the Saturday Star last year that the abuse was only uncovered after a pupil approached school security to look through CCTV footage to find a missing bag.

As security searched the tapes, the team stumbled on footage of the accused assaulting a pupil.

The teenager was approached and the investigation began, uncovering more than a dozen other pupils who came forward with stories of similar incidents. After the incident was revealed in the media, even more pupils approached the school’s administration, forming the 23-strong set of 14- to 16-year-old complainants currently set to testify against the coach.

While this week’s guilty plea will shorten the criminal trial significantly, a criminal law expert has told the Saturday Star that it is difficult to predict what kind of sentence he could expect for 144 counts of sexual assault.

Stephen Tuson, adjunct criminal law professor at Wits University, said the minimum sentences on sexual assault did not seem to be dictated by any current legislation, ultimately leaving such decisions exclusively in the hands of the court.

While rape has a minimum prescribed sentence of life imprisonment, sexual assault has no such rule.

While one source at the National Prosecuting Authority said that based on previous case law, each charge could hold a possible sentence of three to seven years, Tuson said that the court could still construct a custom sentence in this matter.

Tuson said that in situations where the multiple charges were linked to a single criminal incident, the sentences would likely run together.

However, in Rex’s matter, the sheer number of complainants, and the vast number of charges would likely be a major aggravating factor for Judge Johnson.

“The multiple incidents and number of complainants would definitely be aggravating,” said Tuson. The trial continues on Monday.

The Saturday Star