Rodney Earl Sanders pleads guilty to the murders of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill. Motive into the murders of two religious women remains unknown.
A Kosciusko, Mississippi man has admitted to murder of two Roman Catholic nuns in a guilty plea deal which spared him the death penalty.
Appearing in court on Thursday, Rodney Earl Sanders pled guilty to the murders of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill.
The plea deals follows Sanders stabbing to death Held and Merrill, both 69, in the home they shared in nearby Durant in 2016.
At the time of their deaths, the two women worked as nurse practitioners in a medical clinic.
Holmes County Circuit Judge Jannie Lewis sentenced Sanders to two consecutive life without parole jail terms, plus 30 more years for burglary and car theft.
Along with admitting to the women’s murders, Sanders admitted to burglarizing the house and stealing Held’s car.
Of note, Sanders had been indicted for raping both women, but didn’t admit guilt on those charges on Thursday.
The two sisters’ religious orders had opposed the death penalty for Sanders because it contradicts Catholic teaching.
Rodney Earl Sanders pleads guilty: Victims had dedicated their life to the poor.
Msnewsnow reported Sanders being a resident of Kosciusko, but had been temporarily staying in a shed across the street from the sisters in Durant.
Sanders told investigators he went through the back door of the sisters’ home, uninvited. He said Merrill saw him first before a struggle took place with both women, an investigator testified in 2016.
Court filings indicate DNA consistent with Sanders was found under the fingernails of at least one of the women. Prosecutors also say Sanders raped both women.
Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent LeCarus Oliver testified in 2016 that Sanders confessed, telling officers that after stabbing the women, ‘he washed himself up because his hands were sticky.’
Malone-Oliver said the state also had forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony linking Sanders to the crime.
According to Mississippi Department of Corrections, Rodney Earl Sanders was released from prison months before attacking the two women after serving nine months for a felony conviction for driving under the influence. Records also show the felon having done prison time from the mid 1980s to early 1990s for armed robbery.
Prior to their stabbing deaths, Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill had dedicated their lives to providing health care to the poorest in the county state according to a statement released by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
Both women worked at Lexington Medical Clinic, where they gave flu shots, dispensed insulin and provided other medical care for children and adults who couldn’t afford it.
The women’s murders have left what’s been described as a ‘gaping hole’ in what was already a strapped health care system.
Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, based in Milwaukee. Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky.
The motive for the crime has never been clear.
‘To this day, we continued to ask ourselves about Sister Paula and Sister Margaret’s last hours and minutes – how, and especially why,’ Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, told the judge.
Both orders and the sisters’ relatives have opposed the death penalty for Sanders because it contradicts Catholic teaching.
‘My family is morally and ethically opposed to the death penalty, as were Paula and Margaret,’ said Rosemarie Merrill, Paula Merrill’s sister.
Rosemarie Merrill told the judge she was ‘relieved’ that Sanders would spend the rest of his life in prison, but also said she had prayed for him and his family every day since his arrest.
She and other called for Sanders to repent and try to reform his life in prison.
Rodney Earl Sanders, accused in the 2016 deaths of two nuns has changed his plea to guilty. He’s in court for sentencing today. pic.twitter.com/YJIyQYuKnc
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