Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook applies to serve rest of sentence on home detention

Heather Cook, the former Episcopal bishop now serving a seven-year prison sentence for the drunk-driving crash that killed a bicyclist in Baltimore in 2014, has asked to be released from prison and into home detention, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Cook pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving, driving while texting and leaving the scene of an accident in the crash that killed 41-year-old Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014. She is serving her sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

The state sent a letter to Palermo’s relatives on April 25 to alert them to Cook’s request, said a public safety spokesman, Gerard Shields.

Alisa Rock, the sister of Palermo’s widow, called the request “unconscionable.”

“Not even a year ago, Maryland Parole Commission Chair David Blumberg stood in front of a throng of people and spoke about how Cook took no responsibility for her actions and showed a complete lack of remorse during her parole hearing,” Rock, who has served as a family spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Yet now she’s asking to be considered for home detention.

“I can only speak for myself. It’s unconscionable. I oppose home detention. It would just create more trauma for people that I love.”

Inmates are eligible to be considered for home detention within 18 months of release, which for Cook could be as early as September 2019, Shields said.

Cook will be required to provide the home detention unit of the public safety department with a detailed plan and a sponsor, he said. The unit would conduct a “thorough review” of her request, he said, and also consider input from Palermo’s wife, Rachel.

Thomas and Rachel Palermo were the parents of two young children.

“The victim would have a big say in this,” Shields said.

The home detention unit would approve or deny Cook’s plan and sponsor, Shields said. If the unit approved her request, he said, it would likely require substance abuse treatment. He said it would be unlikely to give Cook the authority to drive because her license is currently revoked.

A lawyer for Cook, David B. Irwin, said he did not represent her on her home detention request, because it is an internal public safety department issue.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland issued a statement.

“We hope for compassion and justice to be served by the parole board’s decision for all affected parties,” the diocese said.

Cook was driving on Roland Avenue in North Baltimore two days after Christmas 2014 when she struck Palermo, a senior software engineer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and a master bicycle frame builder. A breathalyzer reading taken half an hour after the collision showed her blood-alcohol level at 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit in Maryland.

She had become the No. 2 bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland seven months earlier. She was the first female bishop in the diocese.

The church’s screening practices came under scrutiny after it emerged that Cook had pleaded guilty to a drunken-driving charge on the Eastern Shore four years before her elevation to bishop — and that the search committee that selected her had been aware of that 2010 arrest.

Diocesan officials said that committee members were never told of the arrest in detail and that the panel left it up to Cook to tell her electors about it. Officials have said she alluded to the case in parish meetings, but only in vague terms.

If the home detention unit approved her request, Cook would be tracked by electronic monitoring device and supervised by frequent visits by state employees.

Cook would be required to remain in her home except to travel directly back and forth to an approved job, state offices and medical or mental health treatment as ordered by a medical personnel.

Home detention shifts the financial burden of being locked up onto offenders. That includes fees associated with electronic monitoring.

The Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook’s first request for parole last May. The commission said she “took no responsibility” for her actions and displayed a “lack of remorse” during a 90-minute hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.

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