By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, has been arraigned on two counts of capital murder in connection to the deaths of Sister of Charity of Nazareth Paula Merrill and School Sister of St. Francis Margaret Held.
The women religious, who served as nurse practitioners at the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, Miss., were found stabbed to death in the home they shared in nearby Durant, Miss., on Aug. 25.
Sanders was arraigned on Aug. 30 and, during the proceedings, his family apologized to the sisters’ representatives in the courtroom, including the president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) Susan Gatz.
“The family of Rodney Earl Sanders apologized to the four members of the SCN family that were present and to the family of Sister Paula Merrill,” said SCN spokeswoman Diane Curtis. “As Marie Sanders (wife of the defendant) broke down in tears, the son went to Sister Susan and apologized. Sister Susan came to Mrs. Sanders’ side and the two embraced and cried. It was a powerful grace-filled moment.”
According to a statement from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, “Sanders was developed as a person of interest early on in the investigation.”
Sanders was a convicted felon and served six years in prison for armed robbery in Holmes County, Miss., beginning in 1986, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Durant and Lexington are located in Homes County.
The SCNs and the School Sisters of St. Francis issued a joint statement after the arrest and emphasized their opposition to capital punishment.
“We want to reiterate our beliefs as women of faith that we value life,” the statement said. “For years now the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the School Sisters of St. Francis have worked to abolish the death penalty, even as we seek justice and truth. Let us hold everyone involved in prayer.”
The Clarion-Ledger reported that district attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver said Aug. 29, the prosecution will “consider the heinous nature of the crime and their wishes.”
Mississippi is one of 30 states in the U.S. that uses the death penalty. It also offers the option of life in prison without parole.