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Heather Cook, ex-bishop convicted of fatally striking bicyclist with car in Baltimore, applies for work release

Heather Cook, ex-bishop convicted of fatally striking bicyclist with car in Baltimore, applies for work release
Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook, who is serving a sentence for manslaughter and other charges in the death of a Baltimore bicyclist, has applied for a work release program

By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
http://www.baltimoresun.com/
July 26, 2018

Heather E. Cook, the former Episcopal bishop serving a prison sentence for fatally striking a bicyclist with her car while drunk in 2014 in Baltimore, has applied for a work release program.

Cook's application is under review, according to a prisons spokesman and a letter sent to the victim's family and shared with The Baltimore Sun.

The prison system's Victim Service Unit said in the July 19 letter to the family of Thomas Palermo that placement of Cook "is to begin within the next several weeks."

But Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said in an email that "there is no set time on when she would be approved or begin working" and he does not know why the letter gave that time frame.

Shields said the department's review "is not a quick process" and that Cook is first undergoing a medical examination "to determine if she can work."

Alisa Rock, a sister of Palermo's wife, said in an email to The Sun that she opposes Cook's application for work release. She said that by applying, Cook "once again attempts to limit the consequences of her actions."

"I had hoped that, one day, Cook would truly grasp the enormity of the loss that her reckless behavior caused for us and our community," Rock said. "It's clear through these repeated requests designed to minimize her sentence that this has not been the case."

Cook applied for home detention in May, but was denied, Shields said. The Maryland Parole Commission last year rejected Cook's first request for parole, with its chairman saying Cook "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse."

"Rather than shirking her responsibility with repeated attempts to limit her incarceration (each of which cause my family much pain)," Rock wrote, "perhaps Cook could use this time as penance, to right her moral compass, and to finally take full responsibility for her actions."

Lawyers who represented Cook at her trial and at her parole hearing last year did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

If she is approved, Cook would be taken to a job at a partnering business and return each night to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where she is serving a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to automobile manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and other violations.

She would continue to earn 10 days off her sentence each month under the work release program, which Shields said she already earns by working in the prison sew shop for Maryland Correctional Enterprises, an arm of the department that hires people while they are incarcerated.

All incarcerated people are eligible to apply for work release within 18 months of their release date, Shields said, adding that Cook "is not being treated any differently." Cook's current release date is in late August of next year, Shields said.

The letter to Palermo's family states that if Cook's application is approved, the family will be notified before she is placed.

Cook was the No. 2 official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland in 2014, when, two days after Christmas, she drove her Subaru into a bike lane on Roland Avenue and struck Palermo, who was 41. Palermo, a senior software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital who built bike frames, was cycling in the same direction and was killed almost instantly.

Witnesses said that after Cook struck Palermo, she drove away, passing by the scene a while later as she returned to her apartment complex before coming back to the scene of the crash 30 minutes later. Officials said her blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Maryland.

The letter to Palermo's family says that any comments the family wishes to make should be submitted within 10 business days of the letter and includes a pink sheet on which to do so.

Cook resigned her position in the Episcopal Church on May 1, 2015. The church deposed her as a bishop in a separate action the same day.

*****

The Palermo family would like to see Heather Cook finish out her prison term as a form of "penance"
Former Episcopal bishop is serving time for cyclist's hit-and-run death is seeking work release

By Fern Shen
THE BALTIMORE BREW
July 26, 2018

Opposing work release, the sister-in-law of victim Tom Palermo says the former Episcopal bishop should serve her time in the prison "as penance"

Heather Cook, the former Episcopal bishop serving a seven-year sentence for the fatal 2014 hit-and-run-crash in Baltimore that killed a bicyclist, is being considered for work release status.

At least one family member of victim Thomas Palermo is opposed to the change and asking prison officials not to approve it.

Alisa Rock, Palermo's sister-in-law, notes that a year ago Cook requested parole and was denied "due to her reported lack of remorse and unwillingness to accept responsibility for her drunk driving,"

Then two months ago, Rock said in a statement to The Brew, Cook unsuccessfully applied for home detention.

"I had hoped that, one day, Cook would truly grasp the enormity of the loss that her reckless behavior caused for us and our community," Rock wrote.

"Rather than shirking her responsibility with repeated attempts to limit her incarceration (each of which cause my family much pain), perhaps Cook could use this time as penance, to right her moral compass, and to finally take full responsibility for her actions," her statement concluded.

Officials: No Papers Signed

Cook, 61, has been incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup since her October 27, 2015 sentencing.

Rock said family members were recently informed by state officials that Cook was being considered for work release status, which would allow her to leave the prison by day.

Gerard Shields, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, confirmed that Cook has applied for work release.

"Each inmate is eligible for work release within 18 months of their release," he said, noting that Cook's current release date is late August 2019.

"Since Cook is eligible, the process has been started to determine whether she will be allowed to go to work release," he said, adding that she is currently undergoing a medical review.

If granted, work release would enable Cook to earn prison "good time" at the same rate she is earning it through her current job at the prison sew shop.

"She would be able to earn 10 days per month off of her sentence," Shields said. "That is what she is currently earning for working for the Maryland Correctional Enterprises, our industry arm, in the prison."

(Sew shop workers make Maryland and U.S. Flags, state highway uniforms and do embroidery for state apparel, Shields said.)

The Jessup warden "has not signed any papers" granting work release status to the former cleric, said Shields, calling the review "not a quick process."

"She is not being treated any differently than any other inmate," he said. "All of these procedures are set by state law.

2nd Drunk Driving Incident

Palermo had been riding his bike in a North Baltimore bike lane on Dec. 27, 2014 when Cook -- drunk and texting -- plowed into him with her Subaru Forester. She left the crash scene and later passed it as she returned home.

It was not Cook's first drunk driving incident.

In 2010, police stopped her on the Eastern Shore for driving erratically on a car with a shredded tire. On a Breathalyzer, she registered 0.27, or more than three times times the legal limit for alcohol.

In the fatal 2014 crash, Cook pleaded guilty to auto manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, driving while texting and leaving the scene of an accident. A 41-year-old software engineer and master bike frame builder, Palermo was a married father of two young children.

Family members and others were surprised to learn last year that Cook was eligible for parole.

But because vehicular manslaughter is not classified as a violent offense under Maryland law, an offender becomes eligible for parole upon serving 25% of his or her sentence.

For Cook, that milestone was reached the previous July.

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