NORRISTOWN, Pa. – After a defense opening that portrayed Bill Cosby as the victim of phony sexual assault accusations, a Colorado music teacher testified Tuesday that Cosby molested her back in 1984 when she was a struggling actress and he had agreed to mentor her.
The woman, Heidi Thomas, took the stand in Cosby’s retrial here in suburban Philadelphia as prosecutors sought to show that Andrea Constand – the woman whose accusation is at the heart of the criminal case against Cosby – was not the only woman assaulted by the entertainer.
Thomas testified that she traveled to Reno to meet Cosby and ended up staying with him at a ranch outside of town. He gave her a script and asked her to play an intoxicated woman, she said, eventually offering her some white wine. She then became woozy, she said, and woke up in bed with a naked Cosby “forcing himself” into her mouth.
Thomas, then about 24, said she felt sickened yet also felt that she must have done something to lead Cosby to believe she would engage in sexual activity. “I must have given some signal,” said Thomas, who said she later consulted a psychologist. “I did feel like I must have said something that was misunderstood.”
Under questioning by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, Thomas said she never sought financial gain or filed a lawsuit as a result of the incident.
She is due back on the stand Wednesday morning for more cross-examination.
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles defense lawyer Tom Mesereau offered jurors a perspective on his view of other alleged victims – such as Thomas – who are expected to be called by the prosecution to show a pattern of sexual assault by Cosby.
“It’s called prosecution by distraction,” Mesereau told the jurors. “When you don’t have a case, you’ve got to fill the time with something else. Remember my words when you hear these people testify.”
Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges in 2005, assailed Constand as a con artist, a “so-called victim” and a conniving liar who “milked” Cosby out of nearly $3.4 million in a civil settlement and is once again expected to testify that he drugged and molested her at his home in suburban Philadelphia back in 2004.
“This was a big score she was working on,” said Mesereau in a 40-minute opening statement on the second day of Cosby’s retrial. His first trial ended in June when another jury deadlocked on the aggravated indecent assault charges..
His address was delivered in a calm and measured way, his voice rising just once – after he contended that Constand had framed Cosby. “What do you get – a con artist, members of the jury,” said Mesereau. “We’ll prove it.”
His statement was peppered with sharp accusations about Constand, who in 2004 was operations manager for Temple University’s women’s basketball team and is now a massage therapist in Canada.
But he offered support for Cosby.
“This man deserves some vindication in this case because the case is nonsense,” Mesereau told the jury.
The entertainer – once known as “America’s Dad – has pleaded not guilty and contends that his sexual contact with Constand was consensual.
Standing at a lecturn and facing the 12 jurors and six alternates, Mesereau said Constand had money troubles and once remarked to a colleague that she could frame a famous person in order to get a big financial settlement.
Cosby, meanwhile, was lonely and vulnerable, a star still mourning the death of a son, who had been murdered in 1997, Mesereau said, adding that “Hollywood is a treacherous place” where lots of young men and beautiful women scramble to find success but often fail.”
“Bill Cosby was a big name in Hollywood,” he said, and Constand realized she had an opportunity. “What does she want?” he asked the jury. “You already know the answer: money, money and lots more money.”
Mesereau highlighted that the civil settlement with Constand noted that Cosby denied any wrongdoing and only settled the case to avoid negative publicity.
“Her attitude was, ‘I can become a multimillionaire,’” said Mesereau, but it was a “paltry sum” for Cosby. But look where it got him, the lawyer went on. “He’s now on trial for his life.”
Mesereau made an oblique reference to the #me too movement – which has highlighted the victims of sexual assault by a slew of rich and famous men in Hollywood – but expressed confidence that jurors would not be affected by the cultural atmosphere.
Constand is just one of the more than 50 women who have said they were sexually assaulted by the once-beloved entertainer over decades. But her accusation is the only one to force him into a criminal trial. The charges were filed just days before the statute of limitations was due to expire.