Former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook sentenced to seven years in drunk-driving …

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A powerful and punishing finale in the Heather Cook case.

The sentence came at the end of a two-hour hearing in which the wife, mother and sisters-in-law of Thomas Palermo directed their grief and anger at the disgraced clergywoman. For seventy-five minutes, the women who knew and loved Tom Palermo — his mother, his mother-in-law, his wife, his sisters-in-law — spoke for him while the woman who had killed him, Heather Cook, sat motionless at the trial table eight feet away, taking a punishment that will make seven years in prison seem like blessed relief. Prosecutors said Cook was far above the legal limit for alcohol and sending a text message as she drove her Subaru Forester in Roland Park on the afternoon of Dec. 27.

Absolutely painful but absolutely necessary, the heartbreaking statements of the women from Tom Palermo’s life resonated with anyone who had ever raised a child, who had ever fallen in love, who had ever started a family, who had ever imagined a long life with a single spouse. It was a little after 2 p.m. when the victim impact statements started in Baltimore Circuit Judge Tim Doory’s drab, second-floor courtroom, with its old drapes, dirty windows and dingy shades. Many had called on Doory to order the maximum sentence of 20 years. “While no amount of prison time would ever seem sufficient, we feel the court today could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving while under the influence and driving while distracted seriously,” said Alisa Rock, one of Palermo’s sisters-in-law. Prosecutor Kurt Bjorklund said Cook left the scene of the accident for 30 minutes, during which time she went home and only returned to the scene “after prodding from a friend.” After more than an hour of tearful testimony from members of Palermo’s family during Tuesday’s sentencing, Cook turned and addressed them directly for the first time. Cook remained composed during most of the hearing, breaking into sobs only when Palermo’s mother spoke and when a former parishioner testified that she’d named her adopted daughter after Cook.

Her sisters and her mother each delivered statements, and their words came in cascades of anguish and anger, offered in moderate tones, marked with details about the day of Palermo’s death last December on a Baltimore street that was supposed to be safe for bicyclists. Cook’s arrest raised questions within the church about how much of her background was known by those who elected her suffragan bishop in 2014, particularly as Palermo’s death made more widely known a 2010 drunken-driving conviction on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A supporter described how Cook had successfully grown a parish in York, Pa., attracting so many new worshippers that the church had to build new facilities. Eugene Sutton, disclosed after Palermo’s death that in the run up to her Sept. 6 consecration as bishop, he advised the head of the national church that Cook may have been inebriated at a celebratory dinner. Palermo’s mother, tearfully described the lingering emotional toll, including on the two children, 5 and 7. “This is my fault, I accept complete responsibility,” Ms.

Leaders of the Episcopal General Convention, meeting this summer in Salt Lake City, put the topic on their agenda after Cook’s case drew national attention. Her ties to the church span generations, including a father who was also a priest and had a history of alcohol abuse. (TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. Her mother, Frances Rock, spoke of Rachel and Tom’s 12 years together — the joy she experienced in watching them build a life and start a family, the horror of watching Rachel explain to her two children that their father wasn’t coming home. Frances Rock called Palermo’s death a “catastrophic loss” for the family. “Father’s Day was particularly hard,” she said, and so were Tom’s birthday in August and his and Rachel’s wedding anniversary in September. “Platitudes and cliches do little to lessen our loss,” she said.

Irwin countered that his client had not had any support to battle her alcohol addiction after that case, and despite staying sober for a year had relapsed. A statement from the diocese said “after further investigation, including extensive background check and psychological investigation, it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader.” The last woman to speak for Tom Palermo was his mother, Patricia, who gave the full measure of the loss and spared none of us the details of her son’s death — how he had been struck so hard that his body had dented the hood of Cook’s car, how his head had slammed through the windshield, how his helmet had landed inside the car, how his body dropped into the street.

She paused for 12 seconds to summon an apology to her lips, and it came up and out in soft tones — “Sorry for the pain and agony I have caused” — and Rachel Rock Palermo, never looking up, held her mother-in-law’s hand until it was over. Topics: t000002458,t000002478,t000027866,t000197766,t000027904,t000027855,t000003142,t000012815,t000003086,t000012821,t000205517,t000010070,t000200081,t000002827,t000412858,t000164057,g000362669,g000223633,g000219643,g000364106,g000362695

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