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Heather Cook pleads guilty to charges in Thomas Palermo’s death

Heather Cook pleads guilty to charges in Thomas Palermo’s death

This afternoon, one day before her trial was due to begin, former bishop Heather Cook pleaded guilty to charges filed after the death of Thomas Palermo last December. From the Baltimore Sun,

Cook pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and texting while driving.

The state has recommended a sentence of 20 years with 10 years suspended, and 5 years probation. Cook will have an opportunity to argue for less time at her sentencing this fall.

Cook continues to receive treatment for alcohol addiction, according to her attorney. She had resigned her post as Bishop Suffragan of Maryland and was deposed from holy orders in an Accord announced by the Presiding Bishop in May.

Photo from earlier court appearance. 


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Anne Bay

The Disease of Alcoholism is a progressive physiological disease that is fatal if not treated and arrested. Heather’s father was an Episcopal Priest who was an alcoholic and went through several rehabs for it before he got sobriety. The University of Indiana is among other universities that have been studying Alcoholism for many many years and in May of 2014 the university published the most recent research findings for people who have the Disease of Alcoholism and that is there are eleven genes that Alcoholics have that non-Alcoholics do not have. This is nothing surprising to all the researchers that have been and continue to find out more and more about the genetic component of Alcoholism It’s apparent from reading about Heather Cook and her family that they didn’t get involved in recovery themselves as all family members of Alcoholics are encouraged to do-it’s a family Disease and affects everyone. The Betty Ford Clinic has one of the best Family programs for everyone in the family from six years old through adults and the Director is Jerry Moe and is one of the foremost “experts” on the affects of Alcoholism on the family. He is a real pioneer in serious work with children of Alcoholics as well as the Alcoholic. All kinds of people are Alcoholics. It is a non-descriminatory Disease-all educational status, all socio-economic, all kinds of backgrounds make up the population of Alcoholics. It is not something that one wakes up in the morning and says “oh goodie-today I am going to be an Alcoholic!!” It’s a progressive Disease that can become necessary to have treatment for in any time in a person’s life-sometimes it reaches serious levels of addiction when the person is a child-a teen-a young adult-an older adult-one thing is for sure-it is a physiological Disease and whether the person has several degrees or none at all or is in jr. High School-the Disease is the Disease and treatment is necessary. In 1935 Alcoholics Anonymous was officially founded and in 1948 Al-Anon -the companion group of A.A. became official for the family/friends of the Alcoholic and a lot of Alcoholics are in Al-anon also today. Alateen for children that have friends or family that are Alcoholics came about in 1957-so there is plenty of help-the literature in these groups is absolutely incredibly helpful-and there is hope for the family and friends of the Alcoholic as well as the Alcoholic. At the Episcopal Convention this year it was decided to renew its need to study Alcoholism and its affect on all concerned. I would encourage anyone to attend an open A.A. meeting-speaker meetings are good for starters. Also, Al-anon is tremendous is giving information and understanding like nothing else does for all those who have friends or relatives who are alcoholics, as well as those who are adult children of alcoholics, whether the alcoholic is still alive or not. You do not need to be living with an alcoholic to go to these groups. Heather apparently did not get any treatment as a young adult for her Alcoholism and apparently her family didn’t get involved in recovery on any level. Alcoholism doesn’t go away and it doesn’t get better without help. Help is available and A.A., Al-anon, and Alateen are free. The Alateen literature is tremendous too and for children in Alcoholic homes it is a real lifesaver. There is no cure for Alcoholism. And any A.A. person will tell you it’s one day at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time. I keep hearing about “counseling” for Heather Cook-I’m all for professional counseling for Alcoholics and their families, but after almost a year of “counseling” it would be a better sign to me if the word recovery was being used for Ms. Cook and reference to her working a program of A.A. This is a life long journey and to help her maintain her sobriety, in my experience, what works best is for the person in recovery to have a sponsor, attend regular meetings, do service in the program, and work the steps and develop friendships with other members of A.A. I haven’t heard any of that. Usually, in my experience, persons who want to just stay in “counseling” for a long time are still avoiding accepting their Alcoholism and until that occurs, the road to recovery has a giant detour. I am hoping that those around her will get into treatment also, attend meetings, and get some insight into not only Heather’s Disease, but insight into what they can do and learn not to do in assisting her road to sobriety. Enabling doesn’t help-but it takes a lot of education to know what to do and what not do and it’s a slow go. This Disease is nothing to not take seriously-a life is at stake. I’m glad that the Episcopal Church is going to be open to dig into what Alcoholism is and learn about it-but it’s a family disease and so I’m hoping they contact some long time professionals such as Claudia Black, John Bradshaw, Jerry Moe, the Betty Ford-Hazelden Clinic, the Meadows Treatment Center, and others. Complicated Disease that needs the best to share their experience and knowledge. My best to Ms. Cook-it’s a rough go for any newcomer-but they have A.A. in jails and prisons, so that will for her be a true blessing.And then she can take what she learns while she is in jail/prison to the meetings when she is released. The A.A. panels in jail/prison are wonderful-I have met people who go on panels regularly and they are the best! So, there is hope.

Nancy Benedict

I will buy the “alcoholism as disease” trope. However, drunk driving is not a disease. People who are epileptic or visually impaired or who have other handicaps that make it unsafe for them to drive do not drive. Heather Cook was able to obtain the position of bishop precisely because she had sufficient control to NOT show up staggeringly drunk at moments when it was important to be at least semi-sober. Unfortunately, driving did not seem to be on that list of such moments for her. Also, I don’t believe there is any disease (at least not identified so far) associated with a compulsive desire to text while driving.


Theodore William Johnson

Heather Cook’s guilty plea means that we are nearing the end of this sad saga in which the Episcopal Church has engaged in a massive cover up protecting those with authority (Bishops and others) who failed to act in ways that could have prevented this tragedy. It is time for those with authority to apologize to the church and the public, since they apparently will not experience any other consequences for their inaction.

David Allen

I don’t believe that there was any cover up. Nor do I believe that TEC has slid away from principle of law, biblical authority or accountability.

Please stick to established fact and avoid ad hominem attacks against TEC or anyone part of TEC.

tom smith

Heather Cook was/is not the “disease”, but merely a symptom of the long slide of TEC leadership away from principal of law, biblical authority and accountability.

Paul Woodrum

Baltimore Brew keeps referring to Cook as a “former bishop.” Under the doctrine of indelibility of orders, she’s still a bishop, just not suffragan of Maryland.

Helen Kromm

If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to contact Fern Shen here:

In the past, Fern has addressed any errors or omissions quickly. That’s a detail I’m sure they would strive to correct quickly.

tom smith

TEC has established thru trials for heresy that it recognizes no official doctrine beyond the Creeds – everything else is theoretically a matter of canon law. Clergy who are deposed are “deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God’s word and sacraments conferred at ordination” (Title IV, Canon 15). Does that mean she is no longer a bishop in the eyes of TEC? Who is to say? Can a person deprived of “spiritual authority” be a bishop? Can the “authorities” in the church actually deprive a person of “spiritual authority”, assuming that the church had the right to confer such authority in the first place? TEC theology is not capable of providing an answer.

Nancy Benedict

Her lawyer says she pled guilty to “provide closure for the Palermo family.” She could have pled guilty in March. Instead she asked for a 6 month delay for, apparently, no purpose other than to work out a deal with the prosecutor, which certainly didn’t take six months. The defense implied in March that they had to get together all this evidence to tell their side of the story, except that they had no story. OK, fine, everybody does what they can to defend themselves as best as possible, but why try to present it as something altruistic when it is totally self-serving?

Jerald Liko

Oh, I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t agree. A person with Ms. Cook’s financial resources could have fought aggressively in court with a good chance of beating the worst of the charges. That speaks to a deeper problem with our justice system, but that’s not the immediate issue. It took a while for her and her legal team to reach this conclusion, but we’ve all been slow to admit fault at one time or another. I’m relieved that she has chosen not to drag the church through the spectacle of a trial.

I pray for Ms. Cook’s healthy rehabilitation.

Nancy Benedict

Note BTW that MADD lists typical sentencing for drunk driving resulting in a death as 0-5 years in Maryland.

There were additional charges here (eg leaving the scene) but it doesn’t seem like she got any real deal at all (prosecutors asking for 10 plus 10 suspended), meaning that prosecutors evaluated her chance of prevailing at trial as nil. What the judge actually sentences her to is, of course, an entirely different matter and has nothing to do with any deal with the prosecutors.

Nancy Benedict

Sorry, I disagree. There was no chance that she could “beat the worst of the charges.” This happened in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, no chance at all that the bicyclist was at fault in any way, the phone evidence will show she was texting at the time, she had a BAC of .22, she was seen driving away, seen circling back to see what happened, left again, and then returned 30 minutes later. If you shot somebody on live prime time TV you’d have more wiggle room because you could argue that you didn’t know the gun was loaded, you thought it was just an act for TV, etc. Aside from arguing that her evil twin was actually responsible, the only possible defense here would be some kind of mental impairment (eg “I was on a powerful medication that impaired my judgment” “I’m so depressed I just can’t stop drinking”) and those defenses are never successful in drunk driving cases. (“I was too drunk to know I was drunk”) especially in this case where she had a previous DUI. (How many times can you not know you’re too drunk to drive?) The only thing she had to negotiate with was “I’ll spare you the expense of a trial if you won’t ask for a lot of prison time” and they, in fact, asked for 10 years (plus 10 years suspended) so obviously that was a pretty weak bargaining chip. This would have been a very short, very decisive trial, I don’t care if Johnny Cochran defended her.


Helen Kromm

“I’m relieved that she has chosen not to drag the church through the spectacle of a trial.”

I have to ask the question why? I don’t feel or believe that is cause for relief. Anything but. Given the abysmal response from the church after this crime, not to mention the events leading up to this catastrophe, anything that would serve to bring to light the church’s role in this would be a desirable thing.

Having said that, I’m glad the plea agreement was reached. But most certainly not out of a sense of relief for the church. Any sense of relief at that outcome is solely out of concern for the Palermo family.

Bob Bates

It is also possible that all this delay was because the attorneys always like to stretch these things out as long as they can, so they can make as much money as possible out of it.

Jay Croft
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