Suspect in slaying of 2 nuns in Mississippi charged with capital murder

Rodney Earl Sanders of Kosciusko, Mississippi, was arrested last Friday in the brutal killings of Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill.

From an ABC News report posted yesterday:

After the man accused of murdering two nuns in their Mississippi home appeared in court today, his family broke down and apologized to the family one of the victims, according to ABC affiliate WAPT in Jackson.

The suspect, Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, Mississippi, was arrested late Friday in connection with the deaths of Sister Paula Merrill and Sister Margaret Held in Durant, Mississippi.

Sanders was wearing shackles and a bulletproof vest as he was taken to the courthouse in Durant this afternoon, WAPT reported.

Sanders, who has been charged with two counts of capital murder, in addition to other charges, will be appointed an attorney, according to WAPT.

The victims, Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, were both 68 years old.There are no other suspects in the case. An August 27th CNN report says that “Sanders appears to have been released from prison last December after serving nine months for a felony conviction for driving under the influence, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He also did prison time from the mid 1980s to early 1990s for armed robbery, records show.” It also states that a motive for the killing is “not clear”, with authorities saying that calling it a “robbery would be premature.” An August 27th ABC News report states “Sanders confessed in the interrogation to the killings and gave no reason for the crimes”.

News of the arrest was posted on the Mississippi Department of Public Safety website on August 26th.

Interestingly, during a time when race and violent crimes have been constantly in the news, the mainstream media accounts I’ve read make no mention of the fact that Sanders is black and the two murdered nuns are white. If two elderly black women were murdered by a white man, what might the headlines and coverage be like? Over on the Accuracy in Media site, Cliff Kincaid writes:

“Rodney Sanders Charged With Murder in Killing of Mississippi Nuns” was the headline over an NBC News story. NPR ran this headline, “Mississippi Man Charged With Murder Of Two Nuns.”

What about, “Black Career Criminal Charged in Stabbing Deaths of White Nuns?”

If a white man had killed two black women, especially if the white man had been a cop, you can bet the race of the perpetrator would have been highlighted.

The point is not that every killing involving people of different races is racially motivated, but that most media outlets continually present such killings in a one-sided manner. It may be that we never know the motive for these specific murders, but it would be good for media outlets to be consistent in how they present and handle such stories. 

On August 28th, A Joint Statement was issued by the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth; it stated, in part:

There is still much we do not know about the suspect and the circumstances that led to this brutal and senseless crime. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and local authorities will continue to keep us apprised of details as the process of justice progresses. We will share more information as it emerges and as we are able.

We wish to offer our deepest appreciation to the Mississippi state and local law enforcement teams and to the many other public servants who have worked tirelessly the past two days, under extremely difficult circumstances, to investigate the sisters’ deaths and gather evidence. They have been unfailingly kind and courteous to our congregation as they have kept us informed of their progress. We are most grateful for the care, consideration, and dedication with which they have carried out their work.

We also wish to thank the hundreds of people and organizations who offered their prayers and words of support in the wake of the sisters’ deaths. Your kindness is deeply appreciated by the School Sisters of St. Francis at this tremendously difficult time. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.