Bond lowered for friend of suspect in Charleston church shooting

Thursday, October 22, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Bond was reduced Thursday for a man accused of failing to tell authorities all he knew about the suspect in the massacre of nine black people at a Charleston church last June.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges lowered the bond for Joey Meek after his attorneys urged Hodges to reduce his $100,000 bond set last month. His lawyers asked for the lower bond based on a pretrial report on Meek's finances and criminal history. Hodges set the new bond at $25,000.

Authorities say Meek lied and failed to report to law officers all he knew about Dylann Roof's plans to shoot parishioners at Emanuel AME Church.

In this June 19, 2015 photo, Dylann Storm Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, S.C.

A survivor of the massacre asked the judge not to reduce Meek's bond. So did victims' family members.

"I'm very afraid. I'm having a hard time just getting through each and every day," said Felicia Sanders, whose 26-year-old son was killed while shielding her and trying to protect his 87-year-old aunt, who also died. "Please don't reduce his bond."

Meek's attorney, Deborah Barbier, argued his bond should be lowered because he has been in solitary confinement since his Sept. 17 arrest, is not a flight risk and has a limited, nonviolent criminal history. Meek, a South Carolina resident since age 11, is on probation, having pleaded guilty in March to a possessing a stolen vehicle. Barbier also said he has a history of mental health issues, so continued solitary confinement may impact his ability to be mentally stable for court. She offered no details on that history.

Felicia Sanders' husband Tyrone called the mental health claim an excuse.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with him," he told The Associated Press after the hearing.

Prosecutor Jay Richardson argued Meek's record during probation shows a tendency not to follow court orders. He noted Meeks was arrested in May for receiving stolen property and admitted to authorities that he used marijuana. He also pointed to Meek's unstable employment history, with jobs lasting one to two months.

Meek's attorneys and relatives declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

Hodges said Meek will be under electronic monitoring and must stay with his grandparents. He will be under home detention except for church, education, employment and treatment. Meek must avoid all contact with the surviving victims as well as any potential witnesses, including his brothers and his girlfriend.

Meek also must be evaluated for mental health and drug treatments.

Meek uttered only three words during the hearing - "Yes, your honor" - acknowledging that he understood the conditions.

Experts have told The Associated Press that the charges against Meek may help prosecutors get him to testify about Roof's state of mind before the shootings occurred.

"By having a charge against him (Meek), they have more leverage with him to go ahead and make some sort of plea bargain: You testify. You tell us the truth, and we'll give consideration on the charges or penalty involved," long-time criminal defense attorney Jack Swerling said last month.

Meek hung out with Roof off and on in the weeks before the June 17 shooting. A day after the shooting, Meek told The Associated Press that Roof had drunkenly complained to him that "blacks were taking over the world" and "someone needed to do something about it for the white race."

Authorities say Meek knew more. In the indictment, prosecutors allege that he knowingly lied to an FBI agent when he said "that he did not know specifics of Dylann Roof's plan to shoot individuals on a Wednesday, during Bible Study, at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina."

The indictment does not specify how the government knows Meek was lying.

Meek, of Lexington, also said Roof told him that he used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun. Meek said he took the gun away from Roof the night of his drunken rant but gave it back when he had sobered up.

The judge hearing state murder charges against Roof has reaffirmed that his trial will start next July 11. The order appoints a third attorney to help in Roof's defense.

Tyrone Sanders, whose son, aunt and cousin died in the massacre, said he's been to Mother Emanuel only once since the shooting. Although relatives of the victims extended their forgiveness to Roof at his bond hearing, Sanders said he's "not there yet."

"Me and Roof might be in hell together before I forgive him," he said after Meek's hearing.

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