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Former Episcopal Church bishop Heather Cook seeks to serve rest of sentence for drunken-driving death at home

Former Episcopal Church bishop Heather Cook seeks to serve rest of sentence for drunken-driving death at home

By Sarah Meehan
https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-cook-home-detention-20190129-story.html
Jan. 29, 2019

Nearly three months after a Baltimore judge turned down her request for early release, former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook asked again to serve the remainder of her prison sentence at home for the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist while she was driving drunk.

Cook, 62, is being considered for home detention status, according to a letter sent to the victim's family from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and shared with The Baltimore Sun.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison after killing cyclist Tom Palermo with her car in December 2014 on Roland Avenue in North Baltimore while driving drunk and texting.

Palermo, 41, was a senior software engineer for Johns Hopkins Hospital, a husband and a father of two young children. His sister-in-law said she "vigorously" opposes Cook's request.

The Jan. 17 letter to Palermo's family said Cook's placement could begin "in the next several weeks," and the family would be notified if she is approved. Inmates are screened and must "earn the privilege of being approved" for home detention, the letter said.

Cook's request last spring for home detention was denied. Cook also previously applied for parole and a work release program. Her parole request also was rejected, and she withdrew the work release request, said Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the state corrections department.

In November, a judge denied Cook's request for a sentence modification that would have granted her early release.

Cook is eligible to reapply for home detention within four to six months of her release date in mid-September, Shields said.

The application process for home detention status is the same the second time around, he said. Cook must provide the corrections department with a detailed home plan, and the department would interview her sponsor. The department's home detention unit would also consider input from Palermo's wife, Rachel.

"She's been a model inmate," said Shields, noting Cook has worked with other prisoners and attended addiction treatment during her time at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

Cook became the first female bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland when she was consecrated in 2014. She resigned from her position as bishop and the church removed her from ministry in May 2015.

"To allow her to now serve the remainder of her sentence under home detention would, it seems, go against the judge's considered opinion," said Alisa Rock, Palermo's sister-in-law, in an email to The Sun. "It certainly goes against mine."

In November, Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory said that if he granted the sentence modification Cook requested -- that two of her four sentences be changed from consecutive to concurrent status -- it would amount to ruling that she spend no time behind bars on one of those counts: the crime of leaving the scene of a collision.

"Each attempt to reduce and mitigate her sentence traumatizes my sister and her family anew," Rock wrote. "As this trauma will affect them for the rest of their lives, it's only appropriate that Heather Cook serve out her time in prison not only for the act of killing Tom, but for leaving him there as he died."

Cook's attorney, David Irwin, said she could have submitted her request for home detention sooner, but chose to wait until after the end of 2018 to avoid raising the issue with Palermo's family during the holidays.

"Their position has always been that when she asks for things, it reopens the wound," Irwin said.

He said it's typical for prisoners to pursue options such as home detention, parole or work release to ease back into society as their sentences expire.

"It's the standard operating procedure for inmates in her position," Irwin said.

Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby declined to comment for this article.

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Baltimore Sun reporters Jonathan M. Pitts and Tim Prudente contributed to this article

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