Back in 1984, Heidi Thomas was a rising actress in Colorado, a 24-year-old whose theatrical aptitude led her to one of the most sought-after agents in the Southwest.
Thomas learned that actor Bill Cosby, or “Mr. C” as he had been described to her, was interested in coaching promising young talent like herself — even though Thomas, an ambitious but unassuming young woman, said she never considered herself exceptional enough to warrant such attention.
“I’m a little nobody from Colorado,” she said. “And he’s this great man.”
Then one day in late March of that year, Thomas’ phone rang. Cosby was on the line.
Thomas took the stand Tuesday in the criminal retrial of Cosby now underway in Norristown as the first of six accusers — including main accuser Andrea Constand — scheduled to testify against the 80-year-old comic legend whom prosecutors portray as a serial sexual predator.
“He was very kind and personable,” Thomas told jurors of Cosby’s call to her. “He said he was looking forward to giving back to the industry that has given him so much.”
Days later, Cosby arranged to have Thomas flown to Reno, Nevada, where she was greeted at the airport by a driver who took her to a remote ranch house outside the city. The driver said it was a getaway Cosby preferred as an escape from the glare of the paparazzi.
It was where her one-on-one coaching would take place, said the driver, who also informed her she would be sleeping there — not in the Harrah’s Reno hotel that had been booked for her.
As she watched the driver carry her bags from the car to the ranch house, she said she was full of nervous excitement about an invaluable career opportunity.
“I had no reason not to believe this,” Thomas told the court.
Cosby, dressed in sweat clothes, opened the door and ushered her in. He told her to change into something more comfortable and then meet him in the kitchen with a monologue she wanted to run through.
She began rehearsing the monologue she had done for auditions countless times before, but recalled that Cosby “wasn’t very impressed.”
Cosby suggested acting out a script for the first time, Thomas said. A quick scan of the script made her realize that she was supposed to play a drunk character.
“Heidi, have you ever been drunk?” Cosby said.
Though she did not drink, she said experiences in college and working as a cocktail waitress had supplied her with plenty of inspirational material.
As Thomas testified Tuesday, Cosby sat largely expressionless, staring at times at the counsel table, grasping his eyes with his hand.
‘Was I hallucinating?’
At the ranch, Thomas said, Cosby asked her what she might drink if she were to drink.
“Maybe a glass of white wine,” she replied.
Before long, she had a glass of white wine in her hand. Cosby told her it would now be a prop.
Within one sip, she said, her mental state was powerfully altered.
“In the back of my head, I hear his voice saying, ‘Can you feel the part now, are you beginning to relax into the part now?’ ” Thomas told the court. “Not even fuzzy, just not there.”
Her next recollection is waking up in a bed. “I don’t know whose bed,” Thomas said. “I have clothes on. He did not. And I was lying down, and he was forcing himself in my mouth. I remember thinking, ‘I feel sick, and how did I get here?’ ”
She testified that Cosby assaulted her twice.
Eventually, she remembered going to the bathroom and being overcome with emotion.
Later, she recalled being backstage someplace in Reno and shaking hands with members of the Temptations.
And she was tormented by the thought of what had happened at the ranch house.
“I still didn’t believe this. Was I hallucinating? I must have said something to him that made him think this was acceptable,” said Thomas, recalling her thoughts from more than three decades ago.
She never told her agent, fearing it would ruin her reputation. And she waited decades before telling even her parents.
When she finally did decide to report the incident to police, the statute of limitations had expired.
In recent years, Thomas, 58, a music schoolteacher and mother of three, has become an outspoken advocate of ending the legal time limits to criminally pursuing sexual misconduct and rape charges.
Kathleen Bliss, a lawyer for Cosby, started at the end of the day to stress inconsistencies in Thomas’ story, including discrepancies over the time of her flight to Reno and and the exact date of the alleged assault.
The defense team’s cross-examination of Thomas will pick up Wednesday.