Heather Cook Seeks Reduction in Sentence

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Heather Cook, the former bishop suffragan of Maryland who pled guilty to striking and killing cyclist Thomas Palermo in 2014, has petitioned a judge to reduce her sentence. Citing an article from The Baltimore Sun, ENS reports that,

She now has asked the judge in the case to change how she serves that sentence, allowing the prison time for two of the charges to be served concurrently rather than consecutively, the Baltimore Sun reports.  That could knock two years off her time in prison, and when combined with credits for participation in prison programs, her new release date could be moved up to Nov. 5, according to the Sun. Otherwise, she would become eligible for release next August.

The Sun article goes on to describe how Cook has apparently been a model citizen during her time in prison, helping to lead 12-step groups, speaking to fellow inmates about addiction, and writing a column for the prison newsletter.

“As soon as she arrived at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Cook immediately ‘began to explore education and self-help opportunities,’ according to the motion. She was not eligible for many during her first few months. but within a year or so was enrolled in a peer-led program that promotes ‘understanding and healing between offenders and those whose lives have been damaged by the crime;’ enrolled in a class that focuses on the impact of crime on victims; took Bible classes and courses on transitioning back into society, and attended weekly prison-wide Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“Cook then collaborated with others to organize — and eventually began leading — a second weekly AA meeting in her building. Last summer, the report continues, Warden Margaret Chippendale approached Cook to ask her help in organizing a prison-wide substance-abuse awareness program. Cook served as a keynote speaker. Another certificate marks Cook’s three years of sobriety.”

However, Palermo’s family continues to object to the prospect of her early release on the grounds that it continues to re-traumatize his widow and children. George Hammerbacher, an experienced addiction counselor who was interviewed for the article, also shared his concerns about how Cook might behave once she is released, noting that,

“… it’s no small feat to achieve three years’ sobriety in prison, where alcohol and other potentially addictive substances are banned but often available. Still, he said, it’s impossible to know whether Cook has made sufficient change to be able to handle the temptations freedom would offer.”

Previous coverage from the Sun about Cook’s attempts to gain early release may be found here, here, and here.

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