Ex-bishop Heather Cook to be released from prison this month

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It was announced earlier this week that Heather Cook, a former suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Maryland, will be released from prison later this month after serving just over three and a half years of a seven year sentence stemming from a December 27, 2014 traffic accident in which she struck and killed a cyclist and fled the scene.  In 2015, Cook pleaded guilty to four charges associated with the accident, including vehicular manslaughter, texting while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, and leaving the scene of the crash.  Cook was sentenced to seven years in prison but has earned an earlier release through good behavior and participation in prison programs.  Cook will be on supervised probation for five years following her release.

During her time in prison, Cook has organized a meeting for fellow inmates struggling with addiction and recovery and organized a symposium on the subject of recovery.  Despite good behavior and what Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory characterized as “substantial rehabilitation” while in prison, all of Cook’s previous motions for early release, including parole, work release, and home detention, were denied.

The family of Thomas Palermo, the cyclist and father of two who was killed when Cook struck him with her car and fled the scene, is strongly opposed to Cook’s early release.  Palermo’s sisters-in-law shared their concerns in an interview with the Baltimore Sun this week.  One sister-in-law, Leah Rock, expressed concern about Cook’s recovery and her ability to maintain her progress in recovery when she is released from prison and has easier access to drugs and alcohol. Another sister-in-law, Alisa Rock, stated:

“Each of Cook’s attempts to reduce her sentence — applications for parole, house arrest, work release, now … one for modification — traumatizes my sister and her family anew…This trauma will affect [Palermo’s wife and children] for the rest of their lives, and it’s only appropriate that Heather Cook serve out her original sentence not only for the act of killing Tom, but for leaving him there. Especially for leaving him there, for abdicating responsibility for what she did.”

An attorney for Cook, David Irwin, stated that while he is unsure of Cook’s exact plans upon her release, she does plan to continue working with women who are incarcerated, carrying on the work she began while in prison.  The exact date of Cook’s release has not been made public, a standard safety protocol, but Cook is expected to be released by the middle of this month.

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Eric Bonetti
Guest

PS I’d add that the consecration process remains fundamentally flawed. If nothing else, Cook’s choice of partners — allegedly a defrocked Episcopal priest — should have given the discernment committee ample cause to take a deep breath, pause, and dig a little deeper. In other words, due diligence is not inappropriate, yet committee members appear either to not fully understand the concept, or perhaps willing to go there.

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Eric Bonetti
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What is troubling about the Heather Cook case is that there still is no meaningful action within TEC to promote accountability. Indeed, the report that emerged following this horrific tragedy is startlingly similar to reports on the same topics written in the 80’s, yet very little has changed. Moreover, many dioceses have not done any follow-up as a result of the report, despite GC’s call to them to do so.

On a more foundational level, the church still appears to struggle with a flawed theology of forgiveness, in which a bad actor is expected to say, “I’m sorry,” and the victim or their family is expected to automatically forgive and move on. That’s not how forgivess and reconciliation can or should work; accountability and restitution both are vital components. Yet to my knowledge there’s no meaningful effort under way to address this misplaced notion.

Until TEC fully explores and resolves these issues, the sad lessons of the Heather Cook saga will remain unlearned.

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Harry M. Merryman
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Harry M. Merryman

We should not conflate forgiveness with reconciliation. Accountability has nothing to do with forgiveness. The Lord's Prayer does NOT say ". . . as we forgive those who have accepted responsibility for their sins against us." In Xn understanding, forgiveness is not dependent on the attitude of the sinner; it is a free act of grace that emulates the Grace extended to us by God without precondition. Reconciliation, on the other hand, rests on a foundation of forgiveness; it requires the power of forgiveness AS WELL AS the sinner’s acceptance of responsibility for her/his acts.

BTW, research has shown that forgiveness without precondition promotes healing for those who have been hurt by others’ sinful acts. But we are called to forgive Heather Cook, not because we will experience healing in doing so, but also because it opens the possibility for restitution and reconciliation, i.e., healing for her as well.

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David Johnson
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David Johnson

A different issue: I hope that the system -- with its many constituent members -- which encouraged, promoted, and ratified her election and consecration as bishop (despite awareness of addictive tendencies) faces its own culpability and is reformed, in light of the devastating consequences of having done nothing.

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Tim Kruse
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Tim Kruse

Once again her evolving story gives us an opportunity to read again the General Convention's resolution 2015-A158 to evaluate "how we're doing" as a church: https://episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution-complete.pl?resolution=2015-A158

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Fred Loving
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Fred Loving

This may not be over for her. The family could start civil action.

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Neil Rice
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Neil Rice

The family has settled the civil suit. Terms were not disclosed.

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Brother Tom Hudson, OPA
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Brother Tom Hudson, OPA

What a timely story, on the weekend where we hear about the conversion of Paul and the restoration of Peter. Our faith was built and nourished by two men who experienced profound change in their lives. Paul went from being a persecutor and hater of Christians to an apostle who suffered rejection, beatings, and ultimately death for Jesus. Peter denied he even knew Jesus three times, so Jesus gave him three opportunities to reverse that mistake. Peter went on to learn that even the people he didn't think should be Christians had a place in Jesus' love. Metanoia has been mentioned in a comment above, and we ought to hope and pray that it is what Heather Cook has experienced in prison. May she also spend the rest of her life serving and loving Jesus like Peter and Paul, even if that brings rejection and suffering to her. And we should pray that the family of Thomas Palermo receive solace and comfort in the knowledge that he is with Jesus, where they will someday see him again.

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EJ Madden
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EJ Madden

I've been praying for her. As a person in recovery for 40 years, I know full well, " there, but for the grace of God go I."

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JoS. S Laughon
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One hopes for her soul's sake that Miss Cook starts showing more than the original pittance of remorse that she originally exhibited. We should pray for her recovery but most importantly her repentance.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

Despite all the Dislikes I’m getting, I will mention that you referred to her “original pittance of remorse,” and I responded to that original statement of Cook’s, which I thought you were referring to, not her statements 2 years later.

Only her words are a matter of record. Whether they came from the heart or not isn’t. Too many people seem to be, not just understandably skeptical about, but actually unaware of, her apology of record.

Believing that the sentence, and the early release, were massive failures of the justice system is a separate issue from any of our beliefs about whether she was sincere in her expression of remorse. Even if she’s truly contrite, which I don’t claim knowledge about, even then, these charges should simply result in a longer sentence.
Peace out.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

I don’t claim to know how much deep understanding she has of her own heart and soul. But her expression of remorse in the courtroom was considerably more than a “pittance.”

From The Baltimore Brew, 10-28-2015:
“I am so sorry for the grief and agony I have caused. This is my fault. I accept complete responsibility. I wish there was something I could do or say to make things better. I think about you every day. I have often felt that I don’t deserve to be alive.”
Turning to Judge Timothy J. Doory, she said, “I believe God is working through this. I trust your judgment and fairness. I am ready to accept and do the best I can with your decision.”

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Joseph Flanagan
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Joseph Flanagan

@Gwen Palmer

The fact that she ran over and killed a man and did not stop to render aid suggests more indifference than remorse. Also, she was denied parole at her first parole hearing for wallowing in self-pity rather than expressing remorse.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-cook-parole-hearing-daily-20170509-story.html

"Commission chairman David Blumberg said the two commissioners who ruled on the case told him they denied Cook parole in part because she "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse" during the 90-minute hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

...Blumberg said Cook spoke at length, calling her alcoholism a disease and describing the parole process as a "brutal irony," but never apologized to Rachel Palermo, Thomas' widow and the mother of his two children."

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

My quoting her words doesn’t mean she had a real grasp of her deeds when she spoke them. But I also can’t possibly make that call. I report the words because she’s repeatedly accused of never expressing remorse, and it’s documented that she did so in unequivocal language. I don’t know why she didn’t apologize in the first parole hearing, but it’s being used to claim she never did at all. Her court statement was strong, and the family understandably said they didn’t want to hear it. Maybe she found it hopeless to repeat it. Or maybe she really wasn’t sufficiently remorseful. I don’t see how any of us can know as much about her state of mind as the board does.

If they disbelieved then, that she’d made a real turnaround, why do I think they’re being fooled this time? Again — my saying they know better than I do is not saying they can’t be wrong, only that I can’t declare it. 31 years in 12-Step has shown me how unpredictable it is, who will succeed.

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JoS. S Laughon
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I am going off the parole board which rejected her request for an early release.

This dated 2 years after the article you cited.

Commission chairman David Blumberg said the two commissioners who ruled on the case told him they denied Cook parole in part because she "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse" during the 90-minute hearing at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

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Gregory Orloff
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Gregory Orloff

Indeed, we ought to pray for the repentance — "metanoia," that change of heart and mind that shows in outlook and behavior — of one and all, starting above all with our own. "If you think you are standing firm, beware, lest you fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

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JoS. S Laughon
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Extremely unsure how this at all conflicts with what I wrote. Perhaps this was written by accident?

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