A federal judge on Monday appointed Columbia defense attorney Deborah Barbier to represent a friend of Dylann Roof’s, the Columbia area man charged with murder in connection with the June shooting deaths of nine African-American churchgoers at a Charleston church.
Roof stayed with Joey Meek, 21, at Meek’s mother’s trailer in a Red Bank mobile home park in the weeks before the June 17 slayings.
A federal indictment made public Friday alleges Meek knew about Roof’s plans to shoot African-American parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston before the June 17 killings. And the indictment said he “did not, as soon as possible, make known the same to some judge or other person in civil authority under the United States.”
The indictment also alleges that on June 18, a day after the shootings, Meek told an FBI agent “he did not know specifics of Dylann Roof’s plan” to kill people at the church. The document alleged “Meek’s statements and representations denying such specifics were false, fictitious and fraudulent when made.”
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The FBI agent had gone to interview Meek about Roof the day after the Charleston killings, which have emerged as one of the nation’s most horrific mass killings in recent years.
Barbier, 46, whose father was an FBI agent, is a former federal prosecutor with wide experience in both state and federal criminal cases.
She declined comment Monday afternoon.
In a 2012 interview about her work, Barbier said federal court “is not a place for amateurs” and to be a good trial lawyer “you have to have a very thick skin.”
Under the order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges, Barbier will defend Meek at taxpayer expense. To receive a court-appointed lawyer, Meek had to qualify as being too poor to pay for a lawyer. Under the Constitution, poor defendants in criminal cases are entitled to have a competent lawyer.
Meek faces a maximum of eight years in prison on both the charges.
Barbier has represented a variety of high-profile defendants in state and federal courts since leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office in Columbia in 2012.
Currently, she is representing a client in the high-profile Berkeley County school case, which is being investigated by the state grand jury. Earlier this year in federal court, she represented former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson, who was convicted in a jury trial of a white collar fraud scheme.
As a prosecutor, one of Barbier’s more publicized cases involved an undercover agent who penetrated a secret Lexington County illegal major cockfighting operation. After that 2010 trial, the jury convicted six defendants, most of whom wound up with prison sentences. She also prosecuted former Lee County Sheriff E.J. Mevin, who was convicted in 2010 on federal racketeering charges, and assorted drug dealers and white collar criminals.
In the federal court system, judges and prosecutors usually prefer to have an experienced defense lawyer on the other side because it lessens the chance of an appeal overturning a case because a defendant didn’t receive adequate representation. Also, as a former federal prosecutor, Barbier will presumably know the strengths and weaknesses of the case against Meek.
Although Deborah Butcher, a Camden attorney who represented Meek on Friday for his first court appearance, has extensive state criminal experience, a review of U.S. court records turned up no federal criminal cases that she had been involved in. Butcher is no longer involved in Meek’s defense, according to federal court records.
Roof has been charged with murder in both state and federal courts. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is seeking the death penalty, and a tentative date for trial on those charges is early July. Federal prosecutors have not yet decided to seek the death penalty; no date has been set for his trial.