Joey Meek, friend of accused killer Dylann Roof, admitted Friday in federal court that he knew details about Dylann Roof’s plan to kill black people at a Charleston church’s Bible study class a full week before last June’s execution-style killing of nine parishioners.
Meek, 21, of Red Bank made the admission to U.S. Judge Richard Gergel during his guilty plea hearing Friday afternoon in Charleston.
Roof, who had steeped himself in Internet teachings of white supremacy and regarded the Confederate flag as sacred, stayed at Meek’s mobile home in the Red Bank area of Lexington County in the weeks before last June’s killings.
After assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson recited in open court Friday the details of Meek’s two crimes – taking steps to withhold information about the crime from authorities as well as lying to an FBI agent – Judge Gergel asked Meek about each separate detail.
Under questioning by Gergel, Meek said Roof, 22, an avowed white supremacist, had said he planned last June’s shooting of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church for six months before actually going there. Meek also admitted he learned details of Roof’s intentions a full week before the shootings.
Those details included that Roof scouted “Mother Emanuel” where the killings happened, that he was going to kill as many black people as possible during a Wednesday night Bible study, that he was going to carry a .45 caliber Glock in a fanny pack into the church, that he had numerous bullet clips, that he was going to start a race war because “no one else would do it” and that he was going to kill himself when the shooting was over.
Meek did not he say why Roof chose that target.
Friday’s hearing was the first time the full extent of Meek’s prior knowledge was made public.
“You do not dispute any of those facts?” Gergel asked Meek.
“No, your honor,” Meek replied in a somber voice.“He told me a week before it happened.”
But what Meek did wrong went beyond just knowing about Roof’s plans.
Meek admitted Friday that when he heard the reports on television the night of June 17, he told four friends who the shooter was. At the time, he told them not to talk to police. But one friend – it was not clear who – disregarded Meek’s request and called a hotline the FBI had set up.
The friends were identified in court as Dalton Tyler, Lindsey Fry, Cassie Mosteller and Chris, whose last name was not given. Fry was his girlfriend.
“Did you tell them not to report it?” Gergel asked Meek.
“Yes, sir,” Meek replied.
When the FBI arrived at Meek’s mobile home after the killings, Meek was questioned by an FBI agent, and he denied knowing about the killings in advance.
“You intended to mislead him, did you not?” Gergel asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Meek replied.
After the hearing, Meek’s court-appointed lawyer, Debbie Barbier of Columbia, spoke briefly with media outside the courthouse.
“Joey Meek is young. He has a very limited education,” Barbier said. “When these unspeakable acts were committed, Joey was scared and he was in shock. Today, Mr. Meek makes no excuses for his conduct. He stood in the courtroom today and was fully accountable for his actions.”
Barbier also said Meek “lives each day of his life with a great deal of sorrow and regret.”
“He has asked God for forgiveness,” she said. “He would like nothing more than (the victims’ families’) forgiveness, but he certainly does not expect their forgiveness,” Barbier said.
During the hearing, Meek said he had only completed the 10th grade and told the judge he was seeing a psychiatrist, although he did not say what for. Meek also said he ADHD – attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – a brain disorder characterized by inattention and impulsiveness.
During the hearing, a deaf relative of one of the victims of the shooting spoke through a sign language interpreter.
The killing of his mother, Ethel Lee Lance, 70, has devastated him and his family, said Gary Washington, 54.
“It’s made a mess in my family,” Washington said. “Now everything has kind of fallen apart.”
Last summer, when Meek was interviewed by State newspaper reporters before he was arrested, Meek was unshaven and wore a baseball hat.
For Friday’s court appearance, Meek was clean-shaven, had shorter hair, wore a dark gray suit, a dress shirt and a striped tie. No photographs are permitted in federal court, and Meek came and left through a back entrance, away from media.
In any court action against Roof, Meek will be expected to testify as a government witness.
Gergel will sentence Meek at a later date. Meek could receive a total of eight years in prison, but since he has no criminal record and did not participate in the killings, he likely will get a far lighter sentence.
Roof is scheduled to go to trial in state court in January. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson is seeking the death penalty. Federal prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty for killings they have classified as hate crimes. No date for a separate federal trial has been set.
Besides providing information about Roof’s whereabouts, actions and statements before the killings, Meek will be able to testify that the killings were premeditated and planned.
Before he was arrested last September, Meek told reporters that he and a girlfriend were so worried about Roof that they hid his Glock handgun from him but then gave it back. That, authorities believe, is the same weapon used in the killings.
In interviews with The State newspaper before his arrest, Meek acknowledged he heard Roof indicate he wanted to commit violence against black people. But Meek said he didn’t take his friend seriously.
Meek was freed on $25,000 bond following his arrest by FBI agents but was told he could not communicate with his immediate family members.
Gergel said Meek will still be allowed to be free on bond, but agreed to a request by Barbier that Meek be allowed to talk with his younger brothers. Federal prosecutor Richardson had no objection.