CHARLESTON, S.C. — Joseph C. Meek Jr., who befriended Dylann S. Roof in the years before nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here, was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for hampering and misleading the federal authorities in the aftermath of Mr. Roof’s racist massacre.
The punishment, handed down by Judge Richard M. Gergel of Federal District Court, was at the low end of the sentencing guidelines, which called for Mr. Meek to spend from 27 to 33 months in prison.
“The danger he exposed to the community is extraordinary,” Judge Gergel said.
Mr. Meek, 22, pleaded guilty last April to two federal counts related to the truthfulness of his responses to the F.B.I. in interviews shortly after the shooting on June 17, 2015 — misprision of a felony and making a false statement to a law enforcement officer. Misprision refers to the failure to report a known crime.
The government did not prosecute Mr. Meek for failing to disclose knowledge of Mr. Roof’s plans to attack the church, although it asserted in court filings that his silence “did deprive law enforcement of the opportunity to intervene.”
During a night of drinking and drug use about a week before the shootings, Mr. Roof told Mr. Meek that he wanted to kill black people at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston in order to start a race riot, according to F.B.I. summaries of interviews with him. Mr. Meek was concerned enough to hide Mr. Roof’s handgun after he fell asleep but later returned it and did not report the threat to law enforcement.
“Certainly defendant’s failure to make an earlier report is tragic and deeply regrettable, but his failure to report was not a violation of federal criminal law,” Judge Gergel wrote last week in an order that denied prosecutors’ request to give Mr. Meek a longer term than recommended in sentencing guidelines.
Mr. Meek’s lawyer, Deborah B. Barbier, said in a presentencing filing that it was “hypocritical and disingenuous” for prosecutors to suggest that Mr. Meek was somehow to blame for the killings. “Joey’s failure to appreciate the seriousness of Roof’s statements is not unusual in today’s shock value culture,” she wrote.
The case matters both as a lesson about reporting suspicions and for the insight Mr. Meek provides into Mr. Roof, who represented himself at times at trial and blocked the admission of any evidence about his background or psychology. As a result, the trial in December and January, which ended in a death sentence for Mr. Roof, provided little information about what may have incited him to act so violently on his racist beliefs.
Mr. Meek has said in various law enforcement interviews and court appearances that he first met Mr. Roof, who grew up near Columbia, S.C., in middle school. They largely lost touch when Mr. Roof moved away but reconnected via Facebook on May 22, 2015, less than a month before the massacre. Mr. Roof began hanging out at the trailer where Mr. Meek lived with his girlfriend and other family members.
One night in early June, after consuming vodka, marijuana and cocaine, Mr. Roof told Mr. Meek of his support for segregation and his desire to “do something big and put South Carolina on the map,” Mr. Meek told the F.B.I. He said that he had been planning the attack for six months and that he hoped to carry it out on a Wednesday because fewer people would be at church. He told Mr. Meek he would then kill himself.
Although Mr. Meek did not say that Mr. Roof had identified the church by name, he said his friend described it as a historic church that had been visited by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Emanuel, as the downtown church is known, is the oldest African Methodist congregation in the South and hosted Dr. King in 1962. Mr. Meek dismissed the seriousness and did not notify the authorities.
Mr. Meek learned about the shootings about 10 that night and discussed his fears with a friend, Dalton Tyler, telling him not to contact the police. Mr. Tyler held off that night. But the next morning, as a photograph of Mr. Roof from a church security camera began circulating, Mr. Tyler became the first person to call a police tip line and identify the gunman, according to a search warrant. Mr. Roof was arrested later that morning in North Carolina with the murder weapon in the back seat.
In his initial F.B.I. interview, Mr. Meek denied having known of Mr. Roof’s plans and said Mr. Roof had not spoken of a target for his attack, according to Assistant United States Attorney Julius N. Richardson.
But in a second interview, Mr. Meek admitted that he had lied, according to an F.B.I. synopsis of the session. He also admitted that on the night of the shootings, after concluding that Mr. Roof was responsible for the attack, he told others not to contact law enforcement.
In his conversations with investigators, Mr. Meek described Mr. Roof as a shy former altar boy who did not have many friends but was not a social misfit. His parents, who were divorced, lived in houses with swimming pools and gave him most anything he wanted, Mr. Meek said. He did not perceive Mr. Roof as depressed or as having an anger problem.
When Mr. Meek was first charged and agreed to a plea deal, the expectation was that he would testify in Mr. Roof’s trial about the killer’s premeditation and planning. But the government’s case on that score was strong without Mr. Meek, and neither side called him as a witness.
Mr. Meek has told the authorities that he thinks about the carnage every day and that he has trouble sleeping. He has sent handwritten letters of apology to the families of each of Mr. Roof’s victim.
“I truly in my heart didn’t take him seriously and I wish I would have,” Mr. Meek, a 10th-grade dropout who works in construction, said in a written statement that he essentially repeated to Judge Gergel in a soft voice on Tuesday. “I didn’t believe he could do something so awful and cruel.”