Former bishop who killed cyclist while drunk denied early release plea

BALTIMORE - Heather Cook, a former Episcopal bishop, was denied her early release plea after fatally striking a bicyclist while driving drunk, and leaving the scene in December 2014.

Cook was in court on Monday asking to be let out after serving three years of her seven-year sentence. The judge denied the plea saying he can't justify the time she's spent in jail as enough punishment for her choice to leave the scene of the crime, in addition to the additional charges, even though she has shown steps to recover.

RELATED: Former Bishop Heather Cook denied parole

Cook fled the scene back in 2014 after killing Tom Palermo, who was riding a bicycle, on Roland Avenue just days after Christmas. She returned to the scene thirty minutes later, and by then, the husband and father of two was dead. Investigators say she was driving drunk almost three times the legal limit and texting.

Cook pleaded guilty to all charges and was denied parole in May of 2017. 

This afternoon, her attorneys asked for the judge to show mercy on her and release her as early as today, saying she has been a model inmate and has been sober for 4 years. 

During the hearing, Cook stood to address the judge, saying "I am sorry for the pain and loss I have caused. There are no words. I owe a debt I cannot repay and that haunts me."

The assistant state's attorney spoke on behalf of the Palermo family, who was in the courtroom, saying his loved ones deserve the finality of the original sentence and stand united against the reduction of her sentence. 

Ultimately, the judge sided with the state. Cook left the courtroom in tears. After the decision was handed down, Tom's wife Rachel Palermo read a statement to the media. 

"Today I want to remember not only Tom, but the people who stopped to try to help my husband on the day he was killed... I want to thank the residents and the delivery man who called 911 or who simply stopped to be there for Tom. It brings me some peace to know that Tom was not alone at that time. Lastly, for those who have lost a loved one due to a crime, and for whom their case is still unsolved, my heart is with you," Palermo said.

"We talked to her about whether we should even have a hearing or not because we knew this would be quite traumatic for her, for the family. But we wanted to set the record straight that she’s always said she had remorse. She always took full responsibility for this and there had been a lot of public furor that she was remorseless," Cook's defense attorney David Irwin said. 

Irwin said he is sad the judge did not give her any relief. Her defense team believes this is the end of the court process in this case. She is expected to be released in 9 months because of the good behavior credits she has earned while in prison. 

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