Baltimoreans are reacting with surprise and anger to the possibility that former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook may be released from prison this spring, less than two years after she received a seven-year sentence for a drunk-driving hit-and-run accident that killed a Baltimore cyclist and father of two.
Some commenters on social media have urged a letter-writing campaign to state parole officials to show their opposition to Cook getting an early release.
“If you do not think this is OK…you can write a letter to the Parole Commission suggesting Heather Cook stay in jail where she can’t drive drunk and kill someone else,” Baltimore artist and BmoreArt editor Cara Ober, who knew Cook’s victim, wrote on Facebook.
“Let this parole board know this woman needs a little time to think about what she did to another human being that day,” commenter Carey Chenoweth wrote. “Please don’t allow the parole board to insult the Baltimore community of caring responsible citizens with her release at two years.”
“Disgraceful. Letter went in the mail today. Add yours tomorrow, everyone,” said commenter Courtney McGee.
The Baltimore Brew reported this week that Cook is scheduled to have a parole hearing on May 9. It is the first time she has come up for a parole hearing since she was sentenced on Oct. 27, 2015.
Associate Judge Timothy Doory sentenced Cook 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. The maximum sentence would have been 10 years.
The accident resulted in the death of 41-year-old Thomas Palermo, a North Baltimore resident who was riding his bike legally in a bike lane on Roland Avenue two days after Christmas. Cook is serving her term at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup.
The Brew quoted a state correctional services spokesman, Gerard Shields, as saying Cook is eligible for a parole hearing after serving one quarter of her term, under the state’s calculations.
“She has a seven year sentence, but because the crime is considered non violent, she is eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of it,“ Shields was quoted as saying.
That is partly what has upset observers, who say killing an innocent cyclist seems pretty violent to them.
“Non violent? Really?” wrote a commenter on the Brew website. “This is a violent crime and should be treated as [such].”
“Seems pretty violent to me,” wrote Jeff Kosnett on Facebook. “Non violent is like shoplifting or forgery.”
Cook’s Division of Corrections number is 442452, and her case number is 115035007. The address for letters about Cook is The Maryland Parole Commission, 6776 Reisterstown Road, Suite 307, Baltimore, Maryland, 21215.