A friend of the man accused of gunning down nine black parishioners at a Charleston church pleaded guilty Friday to knowing about the deadly plot but not alerting police and then lying to authorities investigating the shooting.
Joey Meek, who admitted guilt under a plea agreement, faces up to eight years in prison. However, he could receive a much shorter sentence if he cooperates fully with state and federal prosecutions of Dylann Roof.
The 22-year-old Roof, who is white, is charged with hate crimes and other charges in federal court. He also faces nine counts of murder in state court in a death-penalty trial set to begin Jan. 17.
Roof told Meek that he had a .45-caliber Glock handgun and planned to “start a race war because nobody else would do it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said.
Roof is accused of using that gun in the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church’s Bible study on June 17.
Meek admitted that Roof told him he planned for months to shoot people at a Charleston Bible study on a Wednesday night and had visited an AME church before the shooting. Roof planned to use a fanny pack to conceal the gun and ammunition. He also told Meek that he planned to kill himself.
“He was going to go down to Charleston and do what he had to do,” Meek said in court.
On the night of the shooting, Meek told other friends that he believed Roof had committed the crimes and encouraged them not to alert police. The following day, when authorities released surveillance images of the alleged killer, one friend did call an FBI tip line. When an FBI agent interviewed Meek shortly after, Meek denied knowing about Roof’s plan. He later admitted that he had lied, Richardson said.
“You intended to mislead them, did you not?” Richardson said.
“Yes, sir,” Meek said.
Meek, who has a 10th-grade education, said he has received psychiatric treatment but did not indicate why or for what illness. His attorney declined to elaborate.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel will sentence Meek, who will remain free on bail, on the two federal charges at a later hearing. That likely will come after Roof’s trial, where Meek could be a key witness.
After Meek plead guilty Friday, his attorney, Debbie Barbier, read a statement outside of court saying that Meek was sorry for his actions and hoped his admission provided a step forward in the victims’ family members’ healing.
“He has asked God for forgiveness. He would like nothing more than their forgiveness, but he certainly does not expect their forgiveness,” Barbier said.
Gary Washington, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was gunned down in the shooting, described in court how he saw her earlier that day and hugged her, telling her to be careful before he went to work.
“I’m deaf, so my mother was always with me,” said 54-year-old Washington, who spoke through an interpreter.
Lance was the matriarch of the family who held her five children together even after one daughter died of cancer two years before the shooting.
“Now everything is kind of falling apart,” Washington said.
Other relatives of the nine people killed and the two women who were in the church’s Bible study but survived the hail of 77 gunshots quietly filled one side of the courtroom.
Though state prosecutors plan to pursue the ultimate punishment against Roof, federal authorities still haven’t announced whether they too will seek the death penalty.
Under the federal plea agreement that Meek and prosecutors signed, the Lexington County man admitted guilt to misprision — or withholding details before a crime occurs — and making false statements after the June 17 shooting. He and Roof had been friends since childhood and resumed a closer friendship before the mass shooting at the oldest AME church in the South.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.