Despite a court ruling that freed Bill Cosby years after his sexual-assault conviction, a Douglas County resident says progress is being made to help victims come forward and find justice in cases of rape and sexual assault, but more needs to be done.
Heidi Thomas, who has testified in court that Cosby sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, said that when she read a news story announcing he would be released from prison, it was a “punch in the gut.”
“I had no idea this was coming,” said the Castle Rock resident and Littleton native. “It just came out of the blue.”
Cosby was released on July 1 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction. The actor and comedian had been sentenced to serve three to 10 years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. On the date of his release, Cosby had served three years.
Before, during and after the trial, Cosby has vehemently denied allegations that he used drugs to sexually assault dozens of women.
In a 6-1 ruling, the Pennsylvania high court ruled that Cosby should not have faced charges after an agreement with a former prosecutor was made in 2005.
In 2015, charges were filed by District Attorney Kevin Steele, charging Cosby with the sexual assault. During the trial, Steele used statements made by Cosby in a civil deposition the actor made under the assumption he was immune from criminal charges.
Thomas said that in her opinion, Steele was trying to “right a wrong” made by former prosecutors not taking any action. Now, she fears what she sees as the precedent the ruling could set in future cases involving people accused of rape and sexual assault.
According to court records, during the 2018 trial, Thomas was the first to testify against Cosby. With more than 50 women accusing the actor of sexual assault and misconduct, five women were allowed to testify during his trial as “prior bad acts witnesses.”
In her trial testimony, Thomas accused Cosby of assaulting her in 1984 at his ranch when she was 24 years old and an aspriring actress. Thomas testified that she had gone to Cosby's Pennsylvania home for acting lessons. She testified that after taking a drink of wine, she blacked out and only remembered the next four days in “snapshots,” suspecting the actor drugged her.
Now, Thomas said she does not want to focus on the incident, or on Cosby. Rather, she said it is time to change laws to make sure victims do not face what she, Constand and dozens of others have dealt with in what she called the Cosby “fiasco.”
“I feel strongly that the storyline should no longer be about Mr. C,” she said. “He has been given this spotlight and we need to shut it down. We need to talk about where we go from here.”
Thomas said Colorado makes her proud as changes continue to be made to help victims of sexual assault and rape. Thomas, who describes herself as a victims' advocate, said police departments are getting more training to be more sensitive in taking statements from women and men when they first come to report a sex crime.
“The big battle right now is getting victims to summon up the courage to come forward and report it,” Thomas said. “It takes a lot just to come forward. Law enforcement is getting the training to handle these cases better than they have before.”
Thomas, 61, said she did not come forward when the alleged incident with Cosby happened to her. She said coming forward 30 years later was only to stand behind Constand.
Thomas said she has never filed a civil suit against the actor once known as "America's Dad," adding that coming forward and testifying has never been about his money.
“It was an honor to testify,” Thomas said. “It was the most empowering thing ever. It was about 15 minutes into my testimony before the reality of (Cosby) sitting there hit me. He was not saying anything because it was my turn.”
At the state level, Thomas calls herself a “quiet advocate” as she works with Colorado lawmakers to remove barriers created by statute of limitations laws.
Thomas said change takes time, but bills passing through the Colorado legislature have been a step in the right direction.
Bipartisan Senate Bill 73, recently signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, allows survivors of sexual assault to bring a lawsuit against their abuser at any time. The bill is aimed at child-sex victims. Before Polis signed SB 73, victims only had six years after they turned 18 to file a civil suit.
“Sexual crimes create a level of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Thomas said. “With that kind of trauma, no one can pick an arbitrary amount of time to say that's when someone should be over it.”
In 2016, Thomas said she played a key role in getting House Bill 1072 signed into Colorado law. The law changed the statute of limitations for people to be charged with rape or sexual assault from 10 years to 20.
Thomas said she will continue to be an advocate for eliminating a statute of limitations on all sex crimes completely.
In her personal time, Thomas said, she works to help others through music. She says music got her and other victims through her dark days. Now, as a music teacher, she works to help others use music to heal.
Thomas said she is currently working on a book, developing a podcast and participated in the documentary, "Erased," focusing on how drugs are being used to get away with sex crimes in America.
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