Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook, who fatally struck cyclist Thomas Palermo with her car in Roland Park in December 2014, will remain in prison, a parole commission ruled today.
Cook, 60, was eligible for early release in July. In October 2015, a judge sentenced her to seven years in prison after she pleaded guilty to auto manslaughter, leaving the scene of a driving accident involving a fatality, driving while intoxicated and texting while driving.
Her blood alcohol level on the night of the crash was 0.22, nearly three times the legal limit, and she was also found to have been texting while driving and to have left the scene of the accident before returning.
Because Maryland law doesn’t consider auto manslaughter to be a “violent offense,” Cook was eligible to apply for parole after serving 25 percent of her sentence, a milestone she would have reached this summer.
However, the two-member commission reportedly didn’t get much remorse out of Cook at her hearing today, and thus denied her appeal.
“During the hearing, she did not accept responsibility. She lacked remorse,” said Maryland Parole Commission chairman David Blumberg during a post-hearing press conference, per the AP. “She called it ‘a brutal irony.’ And she did not apologize to the victim at any time.”
Palermo’s widow and other family families were present at the hearing.
“She avoided answering the commissioners’ questions, and overall they felt she was definitely not worthy of a discretionary early release,” he was quoted as saying.
Many Baltimore residents were outraged to learn last month that Cook could have been let out of prison after less than two years. Members of the cycling nonprofit Bikemore sent an impassioned letter sent to Blumberg asking the board to deny her early release. City residents also launched their own letter-writing campaign.
“Eighteen months is just not long enough,” read the letter from Bikemore. “This was not an accident, and the message sent to our community if she is paroled now will be that there are not severe enough consequences when you kill one of us when flagrantly violating the law and human decency.”
At the time of the tragic crash, Cook was the Maryland Episcopal Diocese’s number two bishop. She resigned from her post in May 2015, on the same day when she was defrocked and removed by the church.
Blumberg said Cook will remain in prison until her mandatory release date in 2020 — though he noted that with good behavior, she could get out sometime in 2019.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Palermo was not a resident of Roland Park.
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