Friend of South Carolina church massacre suspect receives lower bond

(AP Photo)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A nonviolent past and lack of hard drug use were factors cited by a judge who lowered bond for a man accused of failing to tell authorities all he knew about a friend accused of massacring nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges lowered Joey Meek’s bond Thursday to $25,000, down from the $100,000 that was set after his arrest last month. Authorities say Meek lied and failed to report everything he knew about Dylann Roof’s plans to shoot parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Hodges declined a request from Meek’s attorneys for a personal recognizance bond, which is a written promise to show up in court. She said she normally would approve that for these charges, but the circumstances dictated otherwise.

Hodges addresses the survivors and victims’ relatives who asked her not to reduce bond at all.

“I appreciate what you’re requesting. My sympathies are with you, your families and your church,” she said. “My responsibility is to make sure I don’t allow my sympathies to get in the way of my oath.”

Felicia Sanders — whose 26-year-old son was killed while shielding her and trying to protect his 87-year-old aunt, who died — said she’s afraid.

“I’m having a hard time just getting through each and every day,” she said.

Prosecutor Jay Richardson argued against any reduction in bond.

While the charges are nonviolent, Richardson said, the alleged crime “did have the effect of concealing a horrible crime against the victims, Mother Emanuel and this state.” He later conceded that Meek has shown no violent tendencies.

Meek’s attorney, Deborah Barbier, argued that Meeks 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 possessing a stolen vehicle. Barbier also said Meek has a history of mental health issues, so continued solitary confinement could affect his ability to be mentally stable for court. She offered no details on that history.

Richardson argued that 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. Hodges agreed that’s a concern but added, “he’s only 21.”

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

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

Meek said only three words during the hearing — “Yes, your honor” — acknowledging he understood the conditions.

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. The indictment alleges 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 doesn’t specify why the government thinks Meek was lying.

Meek, of Lexington County, 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 sobered up.

The judge hearing state murder charges against Roof has reaffirmed that his trial will start July 11, 2016.

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