Friend of accused South Carolina church gunman indicted for lying

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 18, 2015 12:47 PM

By Greg Lacour

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Reuters) - A friend of the man accused of killing nine black people at a South Carolina church has been charged with lying to investigators when he said he did not know specifics of the suspect's plans ahead of the massacre, court documents unsealed on Friday show.

A federal grand jury indicted Joseph Meek, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, on charges that he concealed knowledge of a felony crime and made false statements, according to the records.

Meek pleaded not guilty at a court appearance in Columbia on Friday, a day after his arrest on charges that carry a combined maximum of eight years in prison.

The indictment said Meek lied to an FBI agent who interviewed him after Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire during a June 17 Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.

It said Meek's contention that he did not know details about Roof's alleged plot to shoot people during a Wednesday Bible study at a black church in Charleston was not true.

Federal prosecutors also alleged in a statement that Meek took steps to conceal what he knew about Roof's actions rather than report his knowledge as soon as possible to authorities.

A judge set a $100,000 bond for Meek but said the amount could be lowered after probation and parole officers determine his flight risk.

Meek's mother and family members declined to comment after the hearing.

Meek had given Roof, a childhood friend, a place to stay in the weeks before the killings, according to newspaper reports. He has said he knew Roof had purchased a handgun but told reporters he dismissed his friend's racist comments as drunken bluster. Both Meek and Roof are white.

Meek denied being guilty of any crimes connected to the shootings after learning last month he was a potential target in the federal investigation, the State newspaper in Columbia reported earlier this week.

Roof, 21, faces 33 federal hate crime and firearms charges, along with state murder charges. State prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

(Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Eric Walsh and Mohammad Zargham)