BALTIMORE (AP) — A former Episcopal bishop who killed a bicyclist in Baltimore while driving drunk was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison.
Heather Cook, who had been the second-highest-ranking Episcopal leader in Maryland, pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene.
Her blood-alcohol level was 0.22 percent, and prosecutors said she was texting when she struck 41-year-old cyclist Tom Palermo on Dec. 27. The impact threw Palermo onto Cook's hood and into the windshield of her car. He died of severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
Cook left the scene for 30 minutes before returning, prosecutors said.
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.
"I am so sorry for the pain and agony I have caused," she said. "This is my fault and I accept complete responsibility.
"I think about you every day," she told Palermo's wife, parents and other relatives. "I often felt I didn't deserve to be alive."
Cook then turned and addressed the judge.
"Your honor," she said, "I believe God is working through this and I trust your judgment."
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. After the hearing Cook was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Prosecutors had asked for a 10-year prison term, but Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory opted for a 20-year sentence with all but seven years suspended.
"I hope everyone can begin now to put these events behind us," Doory said. "It is, I trust, a situation where everyone can now focus on the future."
Alisa Rock, Palermo's sister-in-law, called the sentence "lukewarm."
"It could have sent a stronger signal that our community takes driving under the influence and driving while distracted seriously," she said.
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who was present during the hearing, said there was "some sort of measure of justice that was imposed today."
Cook resigned from her position as bishop in May, and her credentials were revoked by the Episcopal Church. She is now considered a layperson.