Prosecutor: Mississippi man to plead guilty in nuns’ deaths

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FILE - In a Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, Rodney Earl Sanders, of Kosciusko, Miss., says nothing as he leaves the Durant Municipal Building after a probable cause hearing in municipal court, in Durant, Miss. District Attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver tells The Associated Press on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 that Sanders, charged with killing two nuns in 2016, will plead guilty as part of an agreement that removes the possibility of the death penalty. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi prosecutor said Tuesday that a man charged with killing two nuns in 2016 will plead guilty as part of an agreement that removes the possibility of the death penalty.

District Attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver told The Associated Press she spoke with the victims’ families before agreeing that Rodney Earl Sanders of Kosciusko, Mississippi, could plead guilty to capital murder. She said the agreement calls for him to be sentenced to life without parole.

Malone-Oliver said the decision takes into consideration that the two women who were killed, Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, opposed the death penalty.

“Life without parole is the highest punishment, other than death,” Malone-Oliver said.

Sister Paula Merrill (L) Sister Margaret Held (R)

The nuns, both 68, worked as nurse practitioners in one of the poorest parts of the U.S. They were found stabbed to death Aug. 25, 2016, in their home in the small town of Durant after failing to show up for work at a health clinic in nearby Lexington, where they often treated poor and uninsured patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions. The clinic and the nuns’ home are in Holmes County, population 18,000. With 44 percent of its residents living in poverty, Holmes was the seventh-poorest county in America in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sanders, 46 at the time, was arrested the day after the nuns’ bodies were found, and he has remained jailed.

A court administrator confirmed Sanders’ hearing is set for June 21 before Circuit Judge Jannie Lewis in Belzoni.

A public defender did not immediately return a call Tuesday.

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