Former Episcopal bishop seeks reduced prison sentence in drunken-driving manslaughter case

[Episcopal News Service] A former Episcopal bishop who is serving a prison sentence in Maryland for hitting and killing a bicyclist while texting and driving drunk has asked for sentence reduction that could let her walk free next month.

Heather Cook, formerly Episcopal Diocese of Maryland bishop suffragan, was convicted of fatally striking a bicyclist Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014, in suburban Baltimore. Palermo was a 41-year-old software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital who also built custom bike frames. He was married and the father of two young children.

Cook pleaded guilty in September 2015 to automobile manslaughter and three other criminal charges and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

She now has asked the judge in the case to change how she serves that sentence, allowing the prison time for two of the charges to be served concurrently rather than consecutively, the Baltimore Sun reports.  That could knock two years off her time in prison, and when combined with credits for participation in prison programs, her new release date could be moved up to Nov. 5, according to the Sun. Otherwise, she would become eligible for release next August.

This isn’t the first time Cook has sought release from prison.

The Maryland Parole Commission denied her May 2017 request for parole after a hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, where Cook, 61, has been serving her sentence since October 2015. In May of this year, she was denied her request to serve the rest of her sentence on home detention.

She also asked in July to participate in a daytime work release program.

“Each of Cook’s attempts to reduce her sentence traumatizes my sister and her family anew,” Alisa Rock, Palermo’s sister-in-law, told the Sun. “It’s maddening … This trauma will affect them all for the rest of their lives, and it’s only appropriate that Heather Cook serve out her original sentence, not only for killing Tom, but for leaving him there, for abdicating responsibility for what she did.”

In the aftermath of Cook’s crime, the Episcopal Church began to take a deeper look at the way it handles impairment. The recent 79th General Convention passed three resolutions that speak to issues surrounding leadership impairment due to alcohol and substance misuse and behavioral addictions.

The resolutions take effect Jan. 1. One of the resolutions calls for mandatory training on alcohol, substance misuse and other forms of addiction for those in the ordination process and for all priests and deacons.

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