Ahead of Cosby’s trial, two accusers grapple with the complicated legacy of their alleged rapist

Beth Ferrier and Heidi Thomas are reckoning with the past and moving on.

From left: Beth Ferrier ca. 1984 (CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Beth Ferrier); Bill Cosby, 1982 (CREDIT: AP Photo); Heidi Thomas’ modeling headshot (CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas)
From left: Beth Ferrier ca. 1984 (CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Beth Ferrier); Bill Cosby, 1982 (CREDIT: AP Photo); Heidi Thomas’ modeling headshot (CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas)

Heidi Thomas doesn’t really believe Bill Cosby will ever see the inside of a courtroom.

She details this disbelief while sitting in the atrium at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa in downtown Denver. It’s halfway through May, and jury selection is less than a week away. Despite numerous efforts to have the only criminal case against him dismissed, Cosby is slated to stand trial for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a crime for which, if convicted, he could spend a decade in prison. But Thomas will believe it when she sees it.

Then again, in 1984, Thomas didn’t believe she was going to get anything but “private acting coaching” from an “industry giant,” as her agent, Anne Maloney, promised her. She didn’t believe this anonymous mentor would be Bill Cosby, whose show she watched and whose work she admired. She was 24 years old at the time. She’d landed a few modeling gigs and was trying to break into acting. She had thick, blonde bangs, a handful of headshots, and, as she put it, “zero self-esteem.”

She didn’t believe the limo that picked her up at the airport was supposed to be driving her to a ranch house outside of Reno, because she was told she’d be taken to a hotel in the city. But the driver told her that Cosby had secured a friend’s place for their tutoring session to avoid the paparazzi.

She didn’t believe that one glass of wine — given to her by Cosby, she says he told her, so she could better perform a monologue as if she were intoxicated — would leave her incapacitated.

She couldn’t believe that, when she came to, Cosby was naked and he was forcing himself in her mouth, climbing on top of her, and promising to ejaculate again. She felt like throwing up.

She couldn’t believe that it happened, even when it was happening. When it was over, she asked herself: Was this a nightmare? Did I make all this up? There are so many things she still can’t remember: Returning to the airport. Getting home.

She didn’t believe she’d been drugged. It hadn’t even occurred to her. Her memory of that night is full of dark, blank stretches, like a classified document with the key passages redacted. She assumed it was her brain protecting her, blocking out the worst. But two years ago, as she watched dozens of female accusers come forward and describe what Cosby had done to them, the very real possibility that he had drugged her clicked into place.

Thomas saved her her ticket, itinerary, and a postcard advertising Cosby’s show from her trip to Reno in 1984. CREDIT: Jessica Goldstein
Thomas saved her her ticket, itinerary, and a postcard advertising Cosby’s show from her trip to Reno in 1984. CREDIT: Jessica Goldstein

She didn’t believe she would come forward with her story. But after connecting with two other Cosby accusers — Beth Ferrier and Barbara Bowman, who were among the first women to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual assault — she made up her mind. “I need to support all of these women that are being called liars and whores and gold-diggers and hookers. I just need to let them know that there’s yet another person out here who knows they’re telling the truth.”

She didn’t believe she’d ever attend a protest. Big demonstrations aren’t her style, and she’d never participated in one before. But on January 17, 2015, Cosby was performing in Denver, less than an hour away from where she lived. The accusations of so many women, she realized, was having little to no effect on Cosby’s professional success. “He was going to have yet another reincarnation of his career,” she says. “He was going to have another TV show. He was going to go back out on tour.” So Thomas went, standing amid the signs that read “RAPE IS NOT A JOKE,” and that’s where she met Ferrier, who would become her friend and ally in a battle to eliminate statutes of limitations in sexual assault cases in the state of Colorado.

She didn’t believe, necessarily, that she and Ferrier would be successful in their efforts to abolish the state’s statute of limitations (SOL) altogether. But they won a considerable victory, which she calls a “baby step”: Extending the SOL in Colorado from 10 to 20 years, giving victims of rape and sexual assault twice as much time to report.

Thomas’ life has been a series of unbelievable events. So maybe she is due for one more: Seeing Cosby in court.

She won’t be there in person. She made the shortlist to testify, but the judge only allowed one accuser to serve as a prior bad acts witness, and Thomas didn’t make the final cut.

“Was I disappointed?” she muses now. Ferrier is seated on a chair to her right, nodding along and chiming in as Thomas recounts her story. Both of their portfolios and other assorted Cosby parephenelia — ticket stubs and hotel receipts from their trips to see him, the New York Magazine cover from two summers ago, with Ferrier and Thomas among the rows of alleged victims and the empty chair — are splayed out on the table between them. A glossy black and white headshot of Thomas, taken around the time of the alleged assault, gazes past her at the ceiling.

“The honest answer is: Yeah. I would have loved to stare down the man.”

With a wink, she adds, “Whether he can see me or not.”

What is it like to accuse one of the most famous men in the United States of sexual assault? What is it like to find out that you are not alone in your allegations but that there are ten, no, a dozen, make that 30, hold on, more than 50 women with stories just like yours? And how does it feel to see something most rape survivors in America never do: A criminal trial, and maybe even prison time, for your alleged assailant?

It’s hard to decide which is more surreal, should these allegations be true: That Cosby could behave so violently and cruelly with total impunity for as long as he did, or that, after a half-century, he will finally be held accountable for his actions. He will finally not be above the law — at least not in the state of Pennsylvania, where aggravated indecent assault is a felony.

It is easy to think of these 50-plus women as a monolith, to focus on what they have in common. Their testimonies align in such a way as to suggest a signature crime, a clear path of misconduct from which Cosby rarely deviated. That is how he saw them, probably: A series of interchangeable victims. But it is not how they see themselves.

It is not how you would see them, either, if you met them. Thomas’ speech is careful and considered; she refrains, whenever possible, from judgment, even from off-color characterizations of others. Ferrier lets her anger show more freely. She waves her hands as she speaks, even though her right arm is in a sling from recent shoulder surgery. She is quick with an eyebrow raise or a bit of tension-breaking snark, and undercuts difficult anecdotes by punctuating the darkest details with a loud, can-you-believe-this laugh. At one point, she refers to the assault and its sprawling, sometimes all-consuming aftermath as “this silliness.”

“Cosby accuser Heidi Thomas,” a designation that Thomas never asked for, suggests a life in which all other aspects are eclipsed by Cosby. Her life is not about Bill Cosby. She earned a BME in music education at the University of Denver in 1981; she works as an accompanist and teaches piano and voice lessons. She also runs seminars on moving past trauma. Even with that work, rooted in her own experiences, she insists Cosby is not a focus for her today. With extremely limited exception, she says, his name never comes up in her house. But as far as Google searches and the public imagination are concerned, her name and his are inextricably linked.

Ferrier, who says Cosby drugged and raped her in 1984, is also well aware that she cannot escape association with this man. She has been living that reality since she went public in 2005. Post-Cosby, her modeling career fizzled out. Until she broke her neck in May 2011, she worked as a certified special education teacher. Now, the Cosby sprawl occupies considerable real estate in her life, though it’s on her own terms: Ferrier estimates she’s in touch with 25 accusers, including Constand. “Those women, over the past two years, have been my friends,” Ferrier says. “They’ve been my go-tos.”

Heidi Thomas, left, and Beth Ferrier look through old modeling photos at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa in Denver, Co. CREDIT: Jessica Goldstein
Heidi Thomas, left, and Beth Ferrier look through old modeling photos at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa in Denver, Co. CREDIT: Jessica Goldstein

It was Helen Hayes — “the first person I ever hugged or talked to who had been groped by Cosby,” Ferrier says; “she’s a hoot” — who urged Ferrier to use the publicity surrounding the wave of accusers who came out in late 2014 as a springboard to meaningful action. That push sparked Ferrier’s interest in changing the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in Colorado, where she and Thomas still reside.

“I was pissed off,” Ferrier says. “And I wanted to do something and share my voice. If my name is going to be attached to Bill Cosby the rest of my life, it better be for something good.”

Invited by Ferrier to take part in the effort to extend the SOL, Thomas joined the cause. In a spotlight she would never have sought, she saw a glimmer of potential. Celebrity-by-proxy status is, as Thomas puts it, a “double-edged sword.” Exposure brings scrutiny from strangers, vulnerability that can be difficult to manage. But it also means that, “all of a sudden, we’re not just a couple of women from Colorado,” Thomas says.

“Just because it happened to us with this famous person, are we more expert than anyone else who’s ever been raped? No… But what we can do is, we can be the voice for a lot of women who just cannot speak.”

As Ferrier tells it, the first time she met Cosby, he raped her booker.

In 2005, Ferrier would become Jane Doe № 5 when she testified in Andrea Constand’s civil suit against Cosby. Her booker would be Jane Doe № 8.

Ferrier’s initiation into the modeling world was, in a way, a violent one: In 1982, the year she graduated from college, she got in a serious car accident. “It was great,” she cracks. “Lost 35 pounds and instantaneously got to start working all the time.”

Two years passed before she and Cosby were introduced. “When I met Cosby, in ’84, it had nothing to do with me needing career advice, mentoring, money.” She and Jane Doe № 8, who was responsible for arranging Ferrier’s modeling gigs, traveled to New York for Fashion Week. Jane Doe № 8 had met Cosby before, and she, along with Ferrier, was invited to dinner at Cosby’s brownstone. After a round of drinks, Jane Doe № 8 was “slumped over on me,” Ferrier recalls.

The gravity of the scene, Ferrier says now, was beyond her understanding: “I’m 24… I was really naive. I didn’t do drinking. I didn’t do any of that stuff.” She says she helped Cosby drag the other woman onto Bill and Camille’s bed. (Tony Hague, a friend of Jane Doe № 8, wrote about the alleged assault in a story for The Daily Beast, “I Saved My Friend From Bill Cosby.”)

Beth Ferrier, ca. 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Beth Ferrier
Beth Ferrier, ca. 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Beth Ferrier

The other thing Ferrier remembers from that night is sitting next to Cosby on the floor. They were looking at the pictures in magazines, “to develop myself,” she says now, her voice slick with sarcasm. Her book is open in front of her, and at the moment, her past — piles of photos from her time as a model — is stacked beneath her present. That New York Magazine cover is on the top of the heap.

She recites what she remembers Cosby said to her, slapping her hand down on the New York cover: “If you can see yourself in magazines, you can be in magazines, Beth.”

Ferrier returned to Denver, to her husband and her baby. But from that point on, Ferrier says, Cosby pursued her incessantly until she relented. They began an affair that lasted several months.

“He was so attracted by my naïveté,” she says. “My father was a banker, so I had experienced some nicer things in my life. But by no means the best wines, the best champagnes, a case of Cristal coming in that’s $4,000. What am I going to do with a case of champagne? I just handed it to all my friends. I didn’t even know how much it was.”

And the things is, she liked him a lot. He made her laugh. “The way he treated me was much like how he was on television,” she says. “He was that calm, genuine person.” She used to hang around the set of The Cosby Show and watch him work. She was struck by how charming and attentive he was, especially with children. “That was the part of him that drew me to him.”

A few weeks after Ferrier broke off the affair, she says, he called her: He was performing in Denver, where she lived, and wanted her to see the show.

“After I drank it, I felt dizzy and lost consciousness. The next thing I knew, hours had passed, and I woke up in my car alone.”

As Ferrier described in her official statement, Cosby greeted her backstage with a cappuccino. “After I drank it, I felt dizzy and lost consciousness. The next thing I knew, hours had passed, and I woke up in my car alone.” Her car was parked in the alley behind the venue. “My clothes were a mess; my bra was undone… I felt confused and disoriented. I had no idea what happened to me.” Two security guards approached and told Ferrier that Cosby had told them to drive her home. Later, she drove to Cosby’s hotel to confront him; he said that she “had too much to drink.”

Heidi Thomas (left, in the red box) and Beth Ferrier on the cover of the July 27, 2015 issue of New York magazine.
Heidi Thomas (left, in the red box) and Beth Ferrier on the cover of the July 27, 2015 issue of New York magazine.

“I did not believe him,” Ferrier wrote. She told no one. She “tucked it away,” she says now, “so deep and so far back.”

That might have been the end of it for Ferrier, if she hadn’t been at a market in 2005 and spotted, on a rack of tabloids, an issue of the National Enquirer with Cosby’s face flooding the cover. “I almost didn’t buy it,” she says. “Almost.” When she got home and opened it up, she learned a name that would change everything: Andrea Constand.

“I’ve never seen or spoken to anyone about Bill Cosby, as far as what really happened,” Ferrier says. “I’d never seen or met anyone, hugged anyone, nothing, besides myself [over this], before Andrea Constand.”

Right away, “I just wanted to meet her. I wanted to reach into the pages and find her and talk with her… Because I knew the power of Cosby and how awfully — ” She pauses a second, searching for the words and knotting her hands into fists. “He puts the fear in you. Real quick.”

“Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate.”

Comedian Hannibal Buress probably did not realize what he was starting when he started this bit about Cosby during a stand-up set at Trocadero in Philadelphia on October 16, 2014. He went on:

“He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ‘80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage!’ Well, yeah, but you’re a rapist, so…”

Buress wasn’t the only person to bring up the allegations against Cosby in the years after 2006. He wasn’t the first comic to make “Cosby was a rapist” a punchline, either: In a 2009 episode of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan flips out at a Cosby impersonator over the phone, yelling that Cosby’s “got a lot of nerve calling me after what you did to my Aunt Paulette!… 1971, Cincinnati. She was the cocktail waitress with the droopy eye.”

But for whatever reason — that a young, black, male comic was the source of the joke; that the bit coincided with a cultural moment in which rape allegations were more likely to be taken seriously than ever before; the alchemy of the internet that makes certain videos go viral — the Cosby clip from Buress’ set exploded.

“I was feeling like that was an injustice: To say that when you’re a victim of a crime, you can only file it in so many years.”

Three weeks later, Cosby was confronted about the allegations by an Associated Press reporter. Within days of that interview — in which Cosby refused to comment and told the reporter that, if he wanted to be “taken seriously,” he should “scuttle” the interview footage — Barbara Bowman, Jane Doe № 7, published an op-ed in the Washington Post, detailing her allegations again and asking, “Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?”

Today, Thomas cedes that “we’re a little bitter” about how it took Buress’ word to kickstart this movement against Cosby. But she also believes only someone in Buress’ position could have made all of this fallout possible. “The fact that it was an African American male that said it, that was big. I’m not sure anyone else could have done it. Heck, how many women have tried to say something?” Neither she nor Ferrier has watched Buress’ set.

As Cosby continued to dodge questions about rape accusations, the number of alleged victims began to rise. In November alone, 15 women came forward (several of whom were 2005 Jane Does revealing their identities), including supermodel Janice Dickinson. Meanwhile, Netflix “postponed” Cosby’s then-upcoming special, and NBC killed an in-development family sitcom in which Cosby was slated to star. TV Land pulled all reruns of The Cosby Show.

It was in this new normal — one in which Cosby was scrambling to defend himself as support for his accusers grew — that Ferrier found herself going public all over again, nine years after she’d done it the first time. She spoke at a press conference led by Gloria Allred on December 3, 2014, alongside Helen Hayes and Chelan Lasha, who said Cosby drugged and molested her in 1986, when she was 17 years old.

From left: Chelan Lasha, Gloria Allred, Beth Ferrier, and Helen Hayes share their allegations against Bill Cosby at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
From left: Chelan Lasha, Gloria Allred, Beth Ferrier, and Helen Hayes share their allegations against Bill Cosby at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. CREDIT: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The first time Ferrier told her story publicly — first in the Philadelphia Daily News, then in People — she faced exactly the kind of backlash one might expect. “It was not good,” Ferrier says. “People thought that we’d taken money, that we exploited ourselves and him. My whole family stopped talking to me.”

Nine years later, doubt remained, as it likely always will. Just about all of the women who have accused Cosby have been accused in turn: Of making it all up for fame, of wrecking-balling Cosby’s sterling reputation in the hopes of minting money off his downfall, of fabricating stories to jumpstart long-stalled careers in the entertainment industry.

But Ferrier could sense that something had shifted between 2005 and 2014. Momentum was on her side. She asked Allred, something of an expert on the subject, how to best harness this energy and media attention. “She said, ‘’If I were you, I’d contact your capital and find out about the statutes of limitations,’” Ferrier says. At the time, Ferrier didn’t know anything about SOL except for how it affected her: Her alleged assault, like most of Cosby’s public accusers’, fell outside her state’s statute for both civil and criminal cases.

In a phone interview, Allred confirmed that she gave this advice not only to Ferrier but “to many, many women.” Allred represents more than 30 alleged Cosby victims. (She no longer represents Ferrier.)

Allred said she emphasized to her clients that a change in the law wouldn’t actually change anything for them: They would be embarking on this project knowing full well that, no matter what, it would always be too late for them to seek justice. Allred said she was careful to explain her counsel about SOLs was only useful “if they wanted to help others in the future. But it’s not going to give them more rights.”

“‘I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”

But that was enough for Ferrier. She went online and found the names, phone numbers, and emails of all the House and Senate members in her state. “I didn’t have a template,” she says. “I just started writing every day.” In her emails, Ferrier didn’t mention her Cosby connection. She just said: “Hello, I’m in Denver, I’m a constituent, I’d really like to find out if someone would help me with abolishing the statutes of limitations for sexual assault.”

One of Ferrier’s targets was Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-CO), then a state representative. “I got these urgent messages from Beth [over] email, and then also messages on Facebook, voicemails,” Fields said by phone. Ferrier’s “persistence” was formidable, Fields recounted. “It got to the point where I just had to respond to her.”

“I didn’t find out about the Bill Cosby piece until we had a chance to sit down and talk,” Fields said. “I know what sticks in my mind is, she said: ‘This was about correcting a wrong for the next generation.’”

Fields was “always intrigued by the idea” of changing the SOL — but, absent Ferrier’s efforts, she doesn’t think she would have taken action on the issue. “It wasn’t on my mind to address that topic until she brought it to my attention,” she said.

From left: Heidi Thomas, then-Rep. Rhonda FIelds (D-Co.), and Beth Ferrier. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas
From left: Heidi Thomas, then-Rep. Rhonda FIelds (D-Co.), and Beth Ferrier. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas

Statutes of limitations (like, one could argue, so many traditions in the justice system) may have made more sense in an era before this one: In a time before DNA evidence, before we had a more nuanced, sophisticated understanding of the nature of trauma and the reasons why it could take a person years, if not decades, to process their experience and be in a position — psychologically, emotionally, and otherwise — to report on their assailant. As Allred put it, the statute is an “arbitrary time period.” An SOL is an expiration date, a deadline for getting over it.

“When you think about the trauma associated with rape, it takes people time to comprehend what happened, to deal with their shame and guilt,” Fields said. “Sometimes the assaults are violent or involve drugs, and it might take a little more time to piece together that something happened, and to gain the confidence to move forward filing a claim with the district attorney’s office. I was feeling like that was an injustice: To say that when you’re a victim of a crime, you can only file it in so many years.”

“We should ask who benefits from a relatively short statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, and who is hurt by it. The answer is simple: The victim is hurt, and the rapist is helped.”

The bill Ferrier fought for, HB 1260, was introduced in February 2016. It was passed unanimously in the Senate and with an overwhelming majority in the House. Allred and Ferrier were in attendance when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law on June 10, 2016. In its final incarnation, the bill extended the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault from 10 to 20 years.

“We should ask who benefits from a relatively short statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault, and who is hurt by it,” Allred said to press at the signing. “The answer is simple: The victim is hurt, and the rapist is helped.”

Thomas rifles through the pages of the loose-leaf binder where she has stored, in plastic sleeves, her old modeling photos and all the documents that constitute a paper trail from her trip to Reno: United Airlines plane tickets, the itinerary from the travel agency that booked her flights, a postcard from Cosby’s show, bearing the date April 1, 1984.

Then she turns to a photo: A candid of her and Cosby taken in St. Louis about two months after Reno. Someone else must have taken it with her Kodak Instamatic. She says that, during that trip, she didn’t yet comprehend exactly what he’d done to her in Reno, but she had a “gut feel” that something was wrong, something she wanted to document, somehow. “I must have felt that there was a reason I needed a picture with him,” she says.

Heidi Thomas and Bill Cosby in St. Louis, MO, on June 23, 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas
Heidi Thomas and Bill Cosby in St. Louis, MO, on June 23, 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas

Ferrier draws herself up, as if preparing to recite a speech from memory. “People ask — ”

Thomas knows where this is going: “Why did you go back?”

Ferrier nods. “Why did you go see him again? You go back because you can’t figure out why in the world, why a person, why that caliber of a man would… be possibly able to do harm [to] you because you don’t know.”

“Your brain is trying to put it together,” says Thomas.

“The majority of us all go back,” Ferrier goes on, clapping for emphasis on each word, “not to go have sex with him, or be with him. It was: Tell me what happened. And you never get the chance.”

Ferrier has a Cosby photo, too, tucked inside her leather portfolio. “Look at this TV Land thing he handed me,” she says. It is an absolutely massive headshot of Cosby’s grinning face. He has a daisy the size of a nickel tucked in his teeth. Ferrier holds it up and rolls her eyes. “Such a putz.”

Years before Thomas knew she would ever tell the world about Cosby, she knew she wanted to tell her three daughters.

“A coming-of-age kind of talk” is how Thomas describes it now. She doesn’t remember, word-for-word, what she said. But she believes her children walked away from the conversation with the certainty that if she was going to be “this brutally honest” with them about what happened with Bill Cosby, then they could talk to her about anything.

“That’s really why I did it,” Thomas says. “Because if, God forbid, anything ever happened to them, I didn’t want them feeling like I did, which was: I can’t tell my mom, she’ll be crushed, she’ll be devastated, she’ll never understand. I wanted them to know that, sometimes, life sucks. And will I be crushed and devastated? Of course I will. But I will understand. And I won’t be so crushed and devastated that we can’t continue to discuss it.”

Her oldest daughter, Morgan, is 25 now. She still remembers exactly where she was sitting in her childhood home when her mom gave her this talk about a decade ago. “All I remember so vividly is being so incredibly angry. I’m not a very angry person. In fact, I’m pretty laid back,” she said by phone. But this made her so furious, “I cried my eyes out. I jumped off the counter, I ran up, and I hugged her.” She remembers that her mom “almost giggled at me, because I got so angry.”

Heidi Thomas’ headshot, ca. 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas
Heidi Thomas’ headshot, ca. 1984. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Heidi Thomas

Thomas’ middle daughter, Kacie, now 24, recalls the Cosby conversation taking place around when she started high school. “I vaguely remember her saying, ‘I don’t want you to think of the world as a bad place,’” Kacie said by phone. “She wasn’t trying to scare us.” But she wanted her daughters to know: “It does happen to people, it happened to your mom, and it could happen to you.”

“Even before Cosby was really in the news, before it started to blow up, every time I heard his name, I kind of winced,” Morgan said. Though her mom gave her permission to tell her inner circle — best friends, boyfriends — the story was mostly a private one until two years ago. “It was frustrating to stay quiet, but it wasn’t my story. And I know that healing can only come from the person, whenever they’re ready to face it. Nobody can force you into that. That was her right and her journey to go on.”

“It was very surreal, watching the rest of the world catch up to what you’ve known to be the truth for so long.”

As a wave of accusers came forward near the end of 2014, Cosby was in the headlines, it seemed, almost every day. The media frenzy, and what it meant for her mom, “was confusing,” Kacie said. “I wanted to be supportive, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I didn’t know if she wanted to talk about it.”

Thomas wasn’t immediately sure what that looked like, either. In an email to her husband and her daughters, “she said, ‘I’m trying to figure out how to handle it. Just know that I know and I love you,’” Kacie recalled. Another email followed when Thomas felt ready to go public, asking if her immediate family was comfortable with her choice. Everyone was on board.

Shortly after she went public with her story, Thomas posted an interview she’d done about Cosby on Facebook and allowed her daughters to share it. “I remember getting a message from one of my friends in high school,” Morgan said. “He was kind of a jokester. A fun-loving guy. He sent me the most somber, sober message, saying, ‘Morgan, I am on the verge of tears. Because I know and love your mom, and this story just became real for me, because I know her.’ He’s a wonderful, wonderful guy, [but] if he didn’t know anybody involved, it would have been just another joke in the media.”

“It was very surreal, watching the rest of the world catch up to what you’ve known to be the truth for so long,” Kacie said.

Kacie has the upcoming trial marked as an event in her Outlook calendar, though she sounds remarkably zen about the whole thing. “I hope it’s fair and just and that it brings a lot of peace to a lot of people,” she said. “It sucks, because you can only control so much. And that’s such a big part of all of this: You can only control so much.”

Morgan is looking forward to the trial, even though she hasn’t followed the news of it “as closely as somebody might expect me to.” Part of her avoidance, she thinks, stems from her frustration that “people in power, who have influence over others, can end up receiving attention, almost as an enabler to all of their actions… I don’t feel like he deserves my attention in that way.”

But Morgan’s protective instinct — something she and her sisters seem to share — is fierce. Her main concern about a not guilty verdict is what it might dredge up for her mom, who has worked diligently to keep the past from disrupting her present.

“I think the biggest challenge is, I don’t want something that she’s worked so hard to put behind her to reenter her life and end up, directly or indirectly, [hurting] how far she’s come,” Morgan said. “She’s ready to move on.”

Ferrier doesn’t want Bill Cosby to go to jail. She says she never has. She knows how it sounds. “Isn’t it weird? I still don’t want him in prison.”

Her ideal outcome: “That he gives it up and says, ‘I’m so, so sorry. Beth. I’m so sorry. Heidi, I’m so sorry.’ That he finally has a breakdown.”

Thomas does not anticipate the apology Ferrier is hoping for will ever arrive. “I don’t think he will ever, ever come to terms with what he’s done, because he doesn’t get it. He’s sick,” she said. She hopes he will be found guilty, though she’s also indifferent to the possibility that Cosby will be behind bars. “I want his name forever linked with serial rapist.”

Bill Cosby stops and talks to the media gathered at the Allegheny County Courthouse as he leaves after the third day of jury selection in Pittsburgh for his sexual assault case on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Bill Cosby stops and talks to the media gathered at the Allegheny County Courthouse as he leaves after the third day of jury selection in Pittsburgh for his sexual assault case on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Whatever the outcome, the criminal trial won’t be the end of Cosby’s legal battles; he faces a number of civil suits by other victims who claim he defamed them. (He has countersued many of these women for making what he says are false allegations about him in a coordinated effort to destroy his career.) But neither Thomas nor Ferrier has a case for defamation, even if either of them were interested in pursuing it. “In that famous deposition,” Ferrier says, referring to the one from 2005 in which Cosby admitted to buying drugs for women with whom he wanted to have sex, “he mentions me a lot… [But] he won’t say anything bad about us, for some reason.”

While she can’t predict whether or not Cosby will be convicted, Ferrier does anticipate one side effect of the trial: Soaring ratings for The Cosby Show, which, after a brief forced hiatus, is back on the air. “It’ll be the hottest hot.” She’s clearly not pleased at the prospect of a ratings boom for Cosby, as her position is that none of his work — his shows, his albums, those Jell-o commercials — should ever be seen again. “I think part of his [punishment] should be, they should be pulled totally.”

She is not convinced that it is possible to see Cosby’s work without seeing Cosby. “Is there Huxtable and is there Cosby? Can you separate it out?”

Thomas can. She still watches The Cosby Show.

Her husband can’t understand it, and she can’t quite explain how she does it. “There’s this side of me that just can’t help but admire and respect the work that he did, because he’s brilliant,” Thomas says. “He did find the humor in the everyday. He did present a whole new look for African American families of that time. And I can respect that while at the same time recognizing,” well, everything else.

“There is no argument, at least with us, the man is brilliant. Brilliant,” Thomas adds. “That’s what made him successful, was that he could see the funny in reality. He is clearly a brilliant businessman. And that same brilliance is what created a brilliant predator.”

When she watches, Thomas says, “I give in to the show.” Bill Cosby disappears and only Cliff Huxtable remains.

Art by Diana Ofosu.