BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A judge denied a former high-ranking Episcopal bishop’s request for early release from prison, despite her plea in court Monday that she has been rehabilitated and her apology for hitting and killing cyclist Thomas Palermo while drunk.
“I’m sorry for the pain and the loss that I’ve caused. There really are no words,” former Bishop Heather Cook told Judge Timothy Doory.
When Cook struck Palermo two days after Christmas in 2014, prosecutors say she was drunk almost three times the legal limit. She was texting at the time and left the scene.
It happened as the father of two was riding in a bike lane on Roland Ave.
The prosecutor said the Palermo family was in “vehement opposition” to Cook’s early release. They declined to speak in court, but Palermo’s widow Rachel read a statement to WJZ outside thanking those who stayed with her husband after he was hit.
“It brings me some peace to know that Tom was not alone at this time,” she said. “And for those who lost a loved one in a crime where the case is still unsolved, my heart is with you.”
Cook has a history of driving drunk. In 2010, police in Caroline County said she was so intoxicated, she drove for miles on a flat tire. When they arrested her, she had vomit on her shirt and a whiskey bottle in the passenger’s seat.
Her lawyer said she has now been sober for four years and is working to help other alcoholics.
Judge Doory said he believed Cook had been rehabilitated, but she needed to be punished fully for her actions.
A visibly shaken Cook muttered, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it,” as officers lead her out of the courtroom in shackles.
Cook’s lawyer, David Irwin, said he would make no apologies for “representing the damned” and he wanted to “set the record straight” that his client was remorseful. “She’s always said she had remorse,” he said.
He told the judge, “She’s done everything she could possibly do,” of her rehabilitation efforts in prison, calling Cook a “model inmate.”
Several members of the Episcopal church wrote letters to the judge on Cook’s behalf and personally showed up for the proceeding. They include the woman who replaced Cook as the church’s second in command in Maryland.
Doory originally sentenced Cook to seven years in prison. She’s been denied parole in the past, but she will not serve the entire sentence.
Due to credits for good behavior, Cook is scheduled to be released in August of 2019.
“You have done much while you’ve been [incarcerated] to help yourself and others. August will be here before you know it,” Judge Doory told Cook.
He told the Palermo family he understood their pain, while adding “I have learned in this world that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.”