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 all 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 says she normally would approve such a bond for the charges in question, but that the circumstances of this case dictated otherwise.
Before giving her decision, she extended her sympathies to the survivor and victims’ family members who asked her not to reduce Meek’s bond at all.
“I greatly appreciate your presence. 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.”
Prosecutor Jay Richardson had argued against any reduction in Meek’s bond.
While the charges are nonviolent, Richardson said, the accused crime “did have the effect of concealing a horrible crime against the victims, Mother Emanuel and this state.” He later conceded to Hodges that Meek himself has shown no violent tendencies.
Those who asked Hodges not to reduce Meek’s bond included Felicia Sanders, whose 26-year-old son was killed while shielding her and trying to protect his 87-year-old aunt, who also died.
“I’m very afraid. I’m having a hard time just getting through each and every day,” she said.
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 possessing a stolen vehicle. Barbier also said Meek has a history of mental health issues, so continued solitary confinement may affect 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 said after the hearing.
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. Hodges agreed that is 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 to go to 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 uttered only three words during the hearing – “Yes, your honor” – acknowledging that he understood the conditions.
Experts have said 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 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 had sobered up.
The judge hearing state murder charges against Roof has reaffirmed that his trial will start on July 11, 2016.