Video Report: Man arrested in fatal stabbing of two Mississippi nuns

Rodney Earl Sanders

(Clarion Ledger) – A Kosciusko man has been charged with two counts of capital murder in the deaths of two nuns in Holmes County.

Authorities said late Friday night that Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, a felon, was developed as a suspect after “an exhaustive interview Friday evening.”

Sanders is charged in the slayings of Sister Paula Merrill, a nurse practitioner with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, and Sister Margaret Held, a nurse practitioner with the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. Both were 68. They were found dead Thursday in their home on Castalian Springs Road in Durant, a town of roughly 2,600.

The two women were stabbed, coroner Dexter Howard said.

Howard called the crime scene “one of the worst” he’s ever seen.

During the course of the interview, agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation obtained enough information to charge Sanders.

Willie March, the sheriff of Holmes County where the killings occurred, said Saturday he had been briefed by police from the town where the killings occurred and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officials who took part in Sanders’ interrogation.

Sanders confessed in the interrogation to the killings and gave no reason for the crimes, March said.

Two nuns stabbed to death in Mississippi

Durant police could not be reached for comment. MBI spokesman Warren Strain said the organization would neither confirm nor deny that Sanders confessed.

Sanders was convicted last year of a felony DUI, said Grace Simmons Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

He was later released from prison and is currently on probation.

Sanders was also convicted of armed robbery in Holmes County, sentenced in 1986 and served six years, Fisher said.

MBI Director Lt. Col. Jimmy Jordan said Sanders was a person of interest early in the investigation. Authorities have not released information on how he was implicated or what his connection to Merrill and Held might have been.

“With the cooperation of the Durant and Kosciusko police departments, Holmes County Sheriff’s Department and the (state) Attorney General Office this heinous crime has been resolved,” read a statement from Jordan.

Sanders is being held in an undisclosed detention center awaiting his initial court appearance.

Strain said further details won’t be released yet because there is still evidence being processed by the crime lab.

“Right now there’s really still a long way to go,” Strain said. “We’re holding off on saying anything else tonight. We just wanted everyone to know that he’s off the street.”

“Our congregation would like to express gratitude for all working so hard on this investigation,” Diane Curtis, spokeswoman for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said in a statement. “We continue to pray for everyone involved in this tragedy.”

Curtis said Sister Paula had been in Kentucky all weekend and left on Monday. The Motherhouse at Nazareth was her home, Curtis said, adding that she did mission work in Mississippi but came back to Kentucky for prayer, celebrations, and meetings frequently.