Raleigh, N.C. — A former Raleigh doctor serving up to four years in prison for a DWI crash that killed a 20-year-old ballerina has been taking part in a work- and home-release program – news that the prosecutor in the case says he is disappointed to hear.
A jury found Raymond Cook, 46, guilty on March 1, 2011, of involuntary manslaughter, felony death by motor vehicle and driving while impaired in the Sept. 11, 2009, death of Elena Shapiro, who danced for the Carolina Ballet.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said Tuesday that Cook leaves the Wake Correctional Center during the week to work at a local pharmaceutical company and that Cook also gets 48-hour weekend passes on a regular basis to visit with his family.
"I've been doing this 20 years, and it's news to me," he said.
Cruden said he was aware of the work release but is surprised that Cook has been allowed to go home to see his family before he has served his minimum three-year sentence.
He said he believed Cook would spend every night of the three years behind bars.
"That's what I told (Shapiro's family)," he said. "Now, I find out, oftentimes on the weekends, he's at home with his family, and we had no idea."
It's unclear how long Cook has been granted home visits, but Keith Acree, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said the practice is not unusual.
"Home leaves are a standard part of the transition process for eligible minimum-custody inmates who are nearing release," he said. "When an eligible inmate is within 60 days of release, home leaves can become more frequent."
Cook, whose projected release date is Feb. 28, 2014, has approximately 10 months left on his sentence and is eligible for one 48-hour home leave and two six-hour home leaves per month, Acree said.
A Superior Court judge granted an order allowing Cook to work last July, but it's unclear exactly where or for how long Cook has been working or how much he makes.
Acree did say that his salary goes to reimburse the prison system, pay any court-ordered costs and other judgments. Anything left over is his when he is released.
"These are privileges that one has to earn," Cook's attorney, Roger Smith Jr., said. "I'm assuming he's earned those based on his behavior."
But Cruden said the privileges only serve to further victimize Shapiro's family.
"It caused me a lot of anguish," he said.
Shapiro's father, David Shapiro, said in an email that he, too, is upset by the news and assumed Cook's entire time at prison would be supervised.
"The judge said that this was one of the more heinous acts to receive a felony death by vehicle conviction," David Shapiro said. "He said that he felt Cook deserved more time but due to structured sentencing, Cook would serve every day of three years at a minimum."
Elena Shapiro had spent the day of the crash rehearsing with the Carolina Ballet for a performance of Swan Lake and was on her way to a housewarming party when she was killed.
Cook, prosecutors said, was driving at speeds of at least 75 mph in a 45 mph zone when he crashed into the back of her car at a north Raleigh intersection, killing her instantly.
Tests indicated that, an hour after the wreck, Cook had a blood alcohol concentration of .24. Anything over .08 is illegal on North Carolina.
The state had sought a second-degree murder conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of 24 years, but jurors were deadlocked 10-2 on a second-degree murder verdict.
Defense attorneys argued that Cook tried to help Elena Shapiro after the crash, and therefore, didn't intend to kill her. Prosecutors argued that he spent the day drinking at a local country club and, later, at a bar and that the wreck was not an accident.
Cook, who worked as a facial plastic surgeon, surrendered his medical license shortly after the crash.
The North Carolina Medical Board ruled in April 2011 that he could reapply for it in September 2011, but Smith said Tuesday that Cook currently is not licensed to practice medicine.