NORRISTOWN, PA — A former actress who has accused Bill Cosby of rape drew gasps from the courtroom audience Wednesday when she declared, “I want to see a serial rapist convicted!”
The blunt statement from Heidi Thomas served as a dramatic exclamation point to a cross-examination that stretched over two days, and escalated from gentle to rough and accusatory in its final stages. The remark was all the more startling because it seemed so out of keeping with the demeanor of Thomas, a cheerful music teacher who had the audience chuckling with self-effacing anecdotes about her youthful ambitions to be a musical-theater star.
Thomas, who is in her late 50s, is the first of five women who prosecutors may call as witnesses in the hope of persuading jurors that Cosby engaged in a years-long pattern of drugging and sexually assaulting women — many of them young, naive strivers who looked up to him.
Thomas testified that Cosby had offered to mentor her in the mid-1980s and that he raped her after pressuring her during an acting exercise to take a sip of wine that left her incapacitated. Prosecutors bolstered Thomas’s testimony with a cache of mementos that the former actress had kept in a scrapbook for many years, including postcards, photos and plane tickets.
The plane ticket proved to be a nettlesome document for prosecutors because the date of Thomas’s flights and some other information had been scratched out and changed. During cross-examination, Cosby defense attorney Kathleen Bliss peppered Thomas with questions about the alterations, suggesting that the witness was falsifying records.
“You changed those dates to affect your testimony about the four-day odyssey you found yourself in Reno,” Bliss asked, her voice dripping with disdain.
Thomas didn’t budge. With a somewhat befuddled look on her face, she simply said she assumed the scratch outs were done by someone at the airport.
Bliss also hammered Thomas about the numerous media interviews she has done, a theme likely to be repeated with other prosecution witnesses. Thomas said she’d done the interviews to show support for other accusers who were not being believed.
Defense attorneys also plunged into Thomas’s social media account, pulling up a Facebook posting she’d made to Andrea Constand, the primary accuser in the Cosby case. Constand has said she was drugged and sexually assaulted by the famed entertainer in January 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia estate.
In one posting, Thomas told Constand: “I’ve got your back, sister.”
For much of Thomas’s testimony, Cosby — who is charged with aggravated indecent assault and whose first trial ended last June with a hung jury — had his jaw set in a weary frown. As Thomas spoke, the 80-year-old comedian swiveled his chair, so that he sat with his face angled toward the audience — and away from the woman who says he raped her.
Jurors also heard Wednesday from Chelan Lasha, a former aspiring model and actress. Lasha dabbed tears from the corners of her eyes while waiting to take the stand and cried while being sworn in.
Once her testimony began, she was so emotional that she had to stop speaking several times because she was sobbing so hard. Lasha told jurors that she grew up in Las Vegas, living with her grandparents because her mother was sent to prison for some unspecified crime. She said she met Cosby in the mid-1980s through a person her grandfather knew at a television production that was affiliated with the iconic actor.
Cosby called her grandmother, Lasha testified, and offered to help guide her career. Asked by prosecutor Stewart Ryan how that made her feel, she began sobbing again and said, “Special. Special. Different.”
Lasha said she was summoned by Cosby to the Elvis Presley Suite in the Las Vegas Hilton in 1986 when she was a 17-year-old high school senior. Cosby talked to her about a possible role on his hit television show. He insisted that she go into the bathroom and wet her hair, she said. When she said she had a cold, Lasha testified, Cosby gave her a blue pill that he said was an antihistamine and two glasses of the liqueur, amaretto, ostensibly to help her relax.
She said felt so woozy that she “could barely move” as he guided her to the bed
“He kept pinching my breasts, and humping my leg,” she said. Cosby was grunting, Lasha said. She simulated the sound of the grunts from the witness stand, sobbing all the while.
As she struggled to regain consciousness, Lasha said, Cosby kept telling her, “Daddy says wake up.”
Confused and disoriented, she had a question for him: “Dr. Huxtable,” she remembers saying, invoking the name of Cosby’s character on his career-defining television show. “Why you doing this to me?”
Days later, she testified, Cosby placed a menacing call to her, saying: “People who talk too much can be quieted.”