Joey Meek, a friend of accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials and withholding knowledge about the shooting in front of the U.S. District Court on Friday in hopes of lessening his potential eight-year prison sentence by cooperating with police in their investigation of Roof. Meek, 21, said that Roof had previously targeted Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and said he planned to kill himself after starting "a race war."
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CHARLESTON, S.C., April 30 (UPI) -- Joey Meek, a friend of accused Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof, pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials and failing to warn authorities about the massacre that left nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church dead.
Meek, 21, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court on Friday in hopes of lessening his potential eight-year prison sentence by cooperating with police in their investigation of Roof.
On Friday, Meek said Roof told him that he had a .45-caliber Glock handgun and planned to target the Bible study in order to "start a race war because nobody else would do it." Roof said he planned to stash "extra clips" of ammunition in a fanny pack and to kill himself after the shooting, Meeks said.
"He was going to go down to Charleston and do what he had to do," Meek told the court.
At first Meek said he did not take Roof's claims seriously, but later believed them enough to hide the gun until his girlfriend convinced him to give it back for fear of violating his probation.
The day after the shooting Meek told several friends that he believed Roof had committed the crime but urged them not to report it to authorities. One friend called the FBI tip line.
When asked by an FBI agent, Meek denied any knowledge of Roof's plan, but later admitted to lying.
Meek responded "Yes, sir," when asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson if he intended to mislead the FBI during his interview. He said he has only a 10th grade education and has been treated for mental illness.
Roof, 22, is scheduled to stand trial in January 2017 on 33 federal charges in the June 2015 shooting during a Bible study.
About 15 friends and family members of the slain churchgoers attended the hearing, including Gary Washington who took the stand. His 70-year-old mother was killed during the shooting.
"I'm deaf, so my mother was always with me," Washington, 54, said through a sign-language interpreter. "I'm miserable, and I've continued to suffer. This has made a mess in my family."
Meek's attorney, Debbie Barbier, read a statement by her client outside the courthouse, saying she was unsure of his sentencing date and whether he would testify in Roof's trial.
"He is truly sorry for his actions," she said. "He has asked God for forgiveness, he would like nothing better than for the families to forgive him. But he certainly does not expect their forgiveness."