[image-1]Standing in the same courtroom where Dylann Roof was handed down the death penalty, Joey Meek was sentenced 27 months in a federal prison for concealing knowledge of Roof’s crimes and calling on others to remain silent.
Dressed in a well-fitted suit and breaking down into tears as he addressed the court, Meek appeared as a polar opposite to his childhood friend who murdered nine parishioners during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. Throughout Roof’s capital trial, the white nationalist who had hoped to ignite a race war, refused to express any sign of repentance or emotion.
A week before the shooting, drunk on vodka, Roof told Meek about his desire to lead an attack on a church in Charleston. Dismissing these comments as drunken rambling, Meek said he didn’t give much consideration to Roof’s words that night. It was days later, when news of the shooting in Charleston spread, that Meek came to realize that Roof had acted on his plans. But as the gunman drove across the state, Meek remained silent. And when a friend convinced that Roof had played a role in the attack said he would contact police, Meek persuaded him to keep quiet. That is the moment that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said Meek broke the law and endangered others.
Leading up to Meek’s sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors announced their intentions to pursue a lengthier penalty for the 22-year-old. While his charges — misprision of a felony and making false statements to investigators — carry a maximum penalty of eight years in prison, Meek had pled guilty to his crimes last April in hopes of a reduced jail time. Sentencing guidelines provided to Meek’s attorney, Deborah Barbier, by prosecutors placed his expected punishment between 27-33 month in prison.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Barbier attempted to show the judge a worst-case scenario of what a prison sentence might be like for someone linked to Roof’s crimes — from the threat of violence from his fellow inmates to the likelihood of solitary confinement.
James Aiken, a 45-year career veteran in corrections, was the first of two witnesses called to testify by the defense. A stern-looking man with a gray beard and booming voice, Aiken said that there is a high chance that Meek would be killed if placed into general population with other inmates aware of his association with Roof.
“Mr. Meek is in a very precarious situation,” Aiken told the court, suggesting that Meek would likely be held in solitary confinement for the duration of his sentence.
Judge Gergel refuted the defense’s argument, saying that the notorious nature of Meek’s crimes cannot simply excuse him from confinement. If the possibility of solitary confinement was enough to preclude a criminal from being sentenced to prison, Gergel said, then he would never be able to send someone to jail.
For Gergel, the partial basis of Meek’s sentence is that his punishment serve as a deterrent for others who may find themselves in his position — torn between whether to contact authorities regarding knowledge of a crime or looking out for their own personal interests. It is this self-centered view of the world that Meek’s psychiatrist, the second witness to take the stand, said had dogged Meek his entire life.
Described as the product of a broken home and a dysfunctional upbringing, Meek’s chaotic early life is when he developed an “every man for himself” mentality, said Dr. Thomas Martin who has been meeting with Meek for the past 17 months. In addition to anxiety and depression, Martin said that Meek has the coping skills of a two-year-old. Learning to lie to avoid conflict at home, Martin claimed that Meek was often the target of threats from his father.
“When we first started to meet, he would lie to me just like he lied to federal agents. That’s why he’s here,” Martin said. “He just never learned that he wasn’t good at it.”
Since he began to seek treatment for his emotional problems and drug abuse, Meek has been able to hold down a full-time job at a restaurant. Martin said that Meek has been clean and kept himself out of trouble in the months following his indictment. But for Judge Gergel, Meek’s recent rehabilitation does not make up for his actions on the night of the shooting at Mother Emanuel.
“On that horrible night, he knew what had happened … He didn’t just shut down. He stopped someone else from reporting it, while Roof was still on the loose. Thankfully, nothing happened,” Gergel said.
In a final plea to the court, before his 27-month sentence was handed down, Meek told the court that he was sorry from the bottom of his heart. He’s been working. He’s been going to church and spending more time with his family. While Meek’s dreams of joining the military were no longer within grasp, he said he wanted to one day become a firefighter.
“I feel like I am on the best track I’ve ever been on in my life,” he said through the tears.
But Judge Gergel recalled another person in Meek’s life who was on the right track — the young man who said they should call the police when they learned of the shooting in Charleston. And on that night, it was Meek who stood in the way of doing what was right.