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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A friend of the white man accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners in Charleston last year is set to plead guilty to two federal charges, according to an agreement signed by federal prosecutors and filed online Monday.
The plea would mark the first conviction in a mass killing that stunned the country, reignited discussions about race relations and led to the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. Dylann Roof, who is charged with the slayings, had previously posed for photos with a rebel flag.
Joey Meek, 21, has agreed to plead guilty to lying to authorities and failure to report a crime, according to the agreement, and a hearing is set for 1 p.m. Friday in Charleston. He could face up to eight years in prison on those charges, although prosecutors note in the agreement they will argue he deserves less time if he's helpful in their ongoing case.
Authorities have said that Meek failed to tell investigators all he knew about Roof's plans to shoot the parishioners at Emanuel AME Church last June.
Roof, 22, is charged with nine counts of murder in state court and with hate crimes and other charges in federal court. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in his state trial, which has been delayed until next year, and federal authorities haven't said if they will also seek a death sentence for Roof. No trial date has been set on those charges.
Before he was charged himself last fall, Meek has long been a part of the story centered on Roof and his arrest. A day after the massacre, Meek, who had hung out with Roof off and on in the weeks before the June 17 shooting, 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."
Meek also told the AP he called the FBI after recognizing Roof in surveillance footage from the church, down to the stained sweatshirt he wore while playing Xbox videogames in Meek's home the morning of the attack.
"I didn't THINK it was him. I KNEW it was him," Meek told AP after being interviewed by investigators, also saying Roof told him he used birthday money from his parents to buy a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.
But authorities say that Meek knew more. An 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."
Meek's agreement specifies that he will help authorities and remain truthful with them. When prosecutors are able to work out such plea deals, one expert said, they do so because they are trying to strengthen their case against someone else. As for Meek, he's hoping for a break on his own sentence.
"The fact that he's entering a plea is a signal that he's intending to help the authorities with Mr. Roof's ultimate prosecution," said Joe McCulloch, a longtime criminal defense attorney in Columbia. "The last man standing always ends up with people testifying against him, with the hope of consideration in their own cases."
Meek, who was released from jail after his bond was lowered in November, had been set to go on trial later this year. His attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
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