JESSUP, Md. (WJZ) — On Tuesday, a Maryland parole board refused to offer early parole to former bishop Heather Cook. Once a high-ranking leader in Maryland’s episcopal church, the board says Cook did not apologize for drunk driving. And, in killing Thomas Palermo, she showed no remorse for his horrific death.
Heather Cook was the number two leader in the church at the time, yet she left her victim for dead and never called 911 to help him. At length today, she tried to convince parole board members she deserved to go free early, but she didn’t say the two words they wanted to hear, “I’m sorry.”
Tom Palermo’s widow Rachel sat just feet from Heather Cook as the one-time high-ranking church leader pleaded for her freedom. But parole board members quickly and unanimously denied her release.
Moments later, Rachel delivered an emotional message of sorrow for husband’s untimely death.
“I want you to think of the 6-year-old and 8-year-old who wish their dad was still here. I want you to think of me and my pain, and tom’s parents and their loss. I want you to think of your own loved ones.”
It’s been more than two years since the father of two was riding his bike in a marked bike lane on Roland Avenue when Cook, drunk at almost three times the legal limit and texting, slammed into him and fled the scene with his helmet lodged in her windshield.
The chair of the parole commission said that Cook showed no signs she learned her lesson.
“She called it a brutal irony and did not apologize to the victim at any time,” says David Blumberg, Parole Commission Chair.
This was not the former bishop’s first offense. WJZ was first to report her arrest on the Eastern Shore in 2010. Court records show Cook was drunk more than three times the legal limit, and smoked marijuana and was driving on a shredded tire.
“They felt she was not worthy of a discretionary early release,” says Blumberg.
Even without early parole, with good behavior, Cook will serve only a little more than half of her seven-year sentence. It’s one the victim’s family felt was too short from the start.
“Today is really about Tom,” says his widow Rachel.
“It is also about those who will continue to love him and feel his loss. If you plan to go out and drink, please set up a ride before you go.”
She also asked people not to text and drive. Bishop Cook could now be out as early as 2019. Church leadership knew about Cook’s 2010 drunk driving arrest, but gave her a chance at redemption.