DURANT, Mississippi — A Feb. 12 trial has been set for a Mississippi man in the 2016 killing of two nuns who worked as nurse practitioners in one of the poorest parts of the U.S.
Rodney Earl Sanders was indicted on capital murder, sexual assault, burglary and grand larceny. He pleaded not guilty Friday.
District Attorney Akillie Malone Oliver will not say whether she will seek the death penalty.
The victims’ families and religious orders issued a statement asking a capital sentence not be sought by prosecutors, but Malone Oliver tells The Associated Press that the crimes were harsh.
Sanders’ defense attorney, Alva Taylor, declined to comment. Sanders remains in the Holmes County jail, without bond.
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, worked with a Mississippi clinic in their ministry with the poor.
At the time of their murder, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger quoted Father Greg Plata, who worked with the sisters in their clinic in Durant, a small town in western Mississippi, as saying, “These were the two sweetest sisters you could imagine … It’s so senseless.”
Their bodies were found Aug. 25, 2016, in their Durant home after they failed to show up at work. Both were 68-years-old.
At Held’s funeral, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said the two nuns had fulfilled their mission, and their lives should serve as an example of service to God.
Crux staff contributed to this report.