Judge Refuses to Lower $2.5 Million Bail for Heather Cook; Bishop Forced to Remain in Jail
Embattled Episcopal Bishop of Maryland Heather Cook, 58, who was formally charged with the drunk driving death of 41-year-old married father of two, Thomas Palermo, last Friday, spent the weekend in jail after failing to clear the hefty $2.5 million bail set by a district court commissioner.
In highlighting the charges Friday, Baltimore's new State's Attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, said at a press conference that Bishop Cook, who's the first female bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the second highest-ranking official in the diocese, had registered a staggering .22 blood alcohol level shortly after the Dec. 27 incident that killed the beloved father.
The charges, which include driving under the influence, causing an accident due to texting while driving, and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, could see the bishop spending more than 20 years in prison and $20,000 in potential fines.
A representative at the Baltimore Detention Center confirmed with The Christian Post that Cook was being held at the Women's Detention Center which was "on lockdown" at the time of our interview. It could not be confirmed if Cook had any visitors during the weekend, but the bishop has been talking on the telephone.
"She's been talking to somebody. She's been making phone calls. I don't know who she's been talking to but she's making phone calls," the representative who did not want to be identified told CP.
A spokesperson from Mosby's office said Cook was scheduled for a bail hearing at 1:30 p.m. Monday but couldn't comment on whether or not she might be offered some kind of plea deal to avoid a protracted trial going forward.
After the hearing Monday, the presiding judge denied a request to change Cook's bail amount, according to The Associated Press. Her attorney said she would remain in jail because she cannot make the $2.5 million bail.
Pointing to her previous DUI conviction and the fact that she left the scene of the incident for 30 minutes, prosecutors argued that Cook was dangerous and a flight risk, and asked the judge to remove the possibility of any bail. Cook's defense attorney argued for a lower bail amount saying she could go into treatment or remain under house arrest.
On the final day of a business meeting at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, on Sunday, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church offered up prayers for Cook, the Palermo family and the Diocese of Maryland even though the bishop's troubles were not part of the set agenda.
"Prayers were sent up for Heather Cook, the Palermo family and the Diocese of Maryland," said Neva Rae Fox of the Episcopal Church's office of public affairs.
She also explained that the meeting in Maryland was not triggered by Bishop Cook's arrest and sought to clarify the coincidence.
"The meeting, the dates and the locations of those meetings (business meetings) were set two years ago. Two years ago it was decided we were gonna be in Maryland. Our meeting in Maryland had nothing to do with the Heather Cook situation. It was not discussed because the executive council is akin to a board of directors and so this is not their purview. We prayed for everyone involved but it was not a matter on the agenda and it was not discussed during the meeting," said Fox.
As for the disciplinary proceedings that have been launched against Cook by the Episcopal Church, Fox said the charges against her will remain confidential, but once the church makes a decision on their future relationship with the embattled bishop it will be made public.
"The ecclesiastical charges are confidential … the proceeding remains confidential and the proceedings are going on and that's according to the canon. As soon as a decision is made that will be made public," said Fox.
Cook, who was elevated to her position last spring, was promoted despite a DUI incident in 2010 where she registered a .27 blood alcohol level and was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Delegates who voted to promote her to the position of bishop have since said they were not informed of Cook's 2010 DUI charge and argued that if they had known they never would have voted the way they did.
Senior Episcopal Diocese of Maryland officials who knew of Cook's struggles, however, said they were satisfied that the 2010 incident was an anomaly and though it better to forgive the bishop.
"One of the core values of the Christian faith is forgiveness. We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption," the Diocese of Maryland said in an earlier statement.
"As part of the search process, Cook fully disclosed the 2010 DUI for which charges were filed resulting in a 'probation before judgment.' After extensive discussion and discernment about the incident, and 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," it continued.