Home | BaltimoreBrew.com
Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen1:57 pmApr 2, 20150

Cook pleads “not guilty” and asks a reporter about the “quest for truth”

A June 4th trial date is set for the Episcopal bishop charged with manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal crash, DUI and other crimes

Above: Attorneys Jose Molina (left) and David Irwin (right) on either side of client Heather Cook.

Subdued and clad mostly in black, Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook made no public comment in Baltimore City Circuit Court today, as she effectively pleaded “not guilty” to the criminal charges she faces for fatally striking a bicyclist with her green Subaru Forester in December and leaving the scene of the crash.

But Cook did, briefly, make polite conversation with two reporters as she sat on a bench in the courtroom, waiting for the arraignment to begin.

“You emailed me,” she said, upon being introduced to The Brew.

“What station are you from?” and “How long have you been in this line of work?” she asked WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

When Miller told her she got into investigative reporting years ago because she was, by nature, “nosy,” Cook murmured “Yes, but is it more than ‘nosy?’ Is it a quest for the truth?”

Cook’s attorney David Irwin warned her not to make substantive comment, the reporters were ushered to other seats in the room. Cook sat quietly while activity swirled around her, swinging her legs at one point, conversing with Irwin at times, closing her eyes at other moments. Then the brief proceedings began.

Appearing before Judge Michael A. DePietro, Irwin and co-counsel Jose A. Molina agreed to a trial date of June 4.

DiPietro, addressing Cook, told her the trial is to take place at 9:45 a.m. before Judge Wanda K. Heard.

Tears and an Embrace

Aside from a bail review by video from Central Booking in January, it was Cook’s first time in front of the media since the December 27 crash in which, severely drunk and texting according to prosecutors, she crashed into 41-year-old bicyclist Thomas Palermo and then drove away from the scene.

Palermo, the father of two young children, had been bicycling in North Baltimore on a road with a marked bike lane.

Cook faces 13 charges in connection with the incident. Among them are manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The extended family of Thomas Palermo, led by sister-in-law Alisa Rock following Cook's arraignment. (Photo by Fern Shen).

The extended family of Thomas Palermo, led by sister-in-law Alisa Rock following Cook’s arraignment. (Photo by Fern Shen).

Palermo’s extended family, including his wife’s parents, at moments holding back tears, watched the arraignment. Also in attendance were some of Cook’s supporters, among them a woman in a clerical collar who embraced her.

Outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse, television crews had set up their microphones and the Palermo family and their attorney stood before them.

“We’re just here to show support for the prosecution,” said Alisa Rock, Palermo’s sister-in-law and the family spokeswoman.

“We know this is the first step in a long process,” Rock said. “We’re looking to have this resolved and to see justice.”

Then Irwin and Molina, along with a silent Cook, took their turn.

No Comment on Where Cook has Been

Heather Cook and her attorneys Jose Molna and David Irwin leaving the Mitchell Courthouse.

Heather Cook and her attorneys Jose Molna and David Irwin leaving the Mitchell Courthouse.

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Palermo family,” Irwin said, adding that Cook was not going to be speaking “based upon the legal situation and the advice of counsel.”

Another question Irwin declined to answer was where Cook has been.

Her attorneys have acknowledged she has “an alcohol problem” and that immediately after the incident she was checked in to  a 28-day course of in-patient treatment  at Father Martin’s Ashley in Havre de Grace.  What happened after that, Irwin said, “will come out when we return to court.”

Asked if  he expected the case to go to trial, Irwin said “we are still wading through the voluminous discovery” and “we haven’t had any meaningful discussion [about that] with the State.”

Irwin also declined to comment on any conversation he or his client may have had with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, which has formally asked her to resign as an employee.

Mark Hansen drives Heather Cook away from the Mitchell Courthouse, following her arraignment. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Mark Hansen drives Heather Cook away from the Mitchell Courthouse, following her arraignment. (Photo by Fern Shen)

At that point, followed by the television cameras, the three approached a white car parked on Lexington Street.

 Hansen at the Wheel

The car was driven by the man Cook has described as “my steady companion,” Mark H. Hansen, a former Episcopal priest who was defrocked in 2005 for opposing the ordination of a gay bishop.

It was Hansen who, in January, posted 10% of the $2.5 million bail set for Cook, allowing her to be released after less than a week in jail.

This morning, amid news media and a few passersby snapping pictures of them, Cook got into the car with Hansen and they drove off.

A statement from the Palermo family:

“Today, in support of my sister, Rachel Palermo, and her young children, our family attended the arraignment of Bishop Heather Cook. We were hopeful that Bishop Heather Cook would do the right thing and take responsibility for her actions by pleading guilty. We are disappointed that this did not happen today, but we know that this is the first step in a long process.

We thank the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Assistant State’s Attorney Kurt Bjorklund for their professionalism and continued dedication to this case. We remain greatly appreciative for the tremendous support that our community has shown for Rachel and her children.”

Most Popular