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 seek justice in cases of rape and death. sexual assault, but there is still a long way to go.
Heidi Thomas, who testified in court that Cosby sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, said when she read a news article announcing he would be released from prison it was a “punch in the stomach”.
“I had no idea this was going to happen,” said the Castle Rock resident and Littleton native. “It just came out of nowhere.”
Cosby was released on July 1 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction. The actor and comedian was sentenced to three to ten years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. By the date of his release, Cosby had served three years.
Before, during and after the trial, Cosby vehemently denied allegations that he used drugs to sexually assault dozens of women.
In a 6-1 decision, the Pennsylvania High Court ruled that Cosby should not have faced charges after a deal with a former prosecutor was reached in 2005.
In 2015, charges were filed by District Attorney Kevin Steele, accusing Cosby of sexual assault. During the trial, Steele used statements made by Cosby in a civil deposition the actor made assuming he was immune from criminal charges.
Thomas said he believed Steele was trying to “right a wrong” done by former prosecutors without 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, in 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 at his trial as “previous witnesses of wrongdoing.”
In his trial testimony, Thomas accused Cosby of assaulting her in 1984 at her ranch when she was 24 and an aspiring actress. Thomas testified that she went to Cosby’s home in Pennsylvania for acting lessons. She testified that after drinking a glass of wine, she passed out and only remembered the next four days in “snapshots”, suspecting the actor had drugged her.
Now Thomas has said she doesn’t want to focus on the incident or on Cosby. On the contrary, she said it was time to change the laws to ensure that victims did not face what she, Constand and dozens of others faced in what she called the ” Cosby’s fiasco.
“I firmly believe that the script should no longer be about Mr. C,” she said. “It got this spotlight and we have to shut it down. We have to talk about where we are going 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 an advocate for victims, said police departments are receiving more training to be more sensitive to taking statements from women and men when they first report a sex crime.
“The big battle right now is getting the victims to find the courage to come forward and report it,” Thomas said. “It takes a lot to manifest. Law enforcement officials are receiving the training they need to handle these cases better than 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 support Constand.
Thomas said she never brought any civil lawsuits against the actor once known as “America’s Dad,” adding that stepping forward and testifying was never about her money.
“It was an honor to testify,” said Thomas. “It was the most empowering thing there was. It was about 15 minutes into my testimony before the reality of (Cosby) sitting there hit me. He didn’t say anything because it was my turn.
At the state level, Thomas defines herself as a “quiet lawyer” as she works with Colorado lawmakers to remove the barriers created by statute of limitations laws.
Thomas said change takes time, but the bills passed by the Colorado legislature were a step in the right direction.
The bipartisan Senate Bill 73, recently enacted by Governor Jared Polis, allows survivors of sexual assault to take legal action against their abuser at any time. The bill targets children who are victims of sexual relations. Before Polis signed SB 73, victims had only six years after the age of 18 to bring a civil action.
“Sex crimes create a level of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder),” Thomas said. “With that kind of trauma, no one can pick an arbitrary length of time to say that’s when someone should get over it.”
In 2016, Thomas said she played a key role in enacting Bill 1072 into Colorado law. The law changed the statute of limitations for those accused of rape or sexual assault from 10 to 20 years.
Thomas said she will continue to advocate for the complete elimination of a statute of limitations for all sex crimes.
In her personal time, Thomas said, she works to help others through music. She says the music got her and other victims through her dark days. Now, as a music teacher, she works to help others use music for healing.
Thomas said she is currently working on a book, developing a podcast, and participating in the documentary “Erased,” which focused on how drugs are used to escape sex crimes in America.