- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

DURANT, Miss. (AP) - The wife of a Mississippi man charged with killing two nuns says she and her husband argued and he left their home a few days before Sisters Paula Merrill and Margaret Held were found stabbed to death in a nearby town.

Marie Sanders told The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/2cwxlBo ) her faith is sustaining her as 46-year-old Rodney Earl Sanders faces capital murder charges.

In an interview published Monday, Sanders said her husband left their Kosciusko home after their argument and it wasn’t unusual for him to stay in a shed behind a relative’s home across the street from the sisters’ house in Durant, a town about 15 miles west of Kosciusko.

Held and Merrill, who had worked for decades as nurse practitioners in some of the poorest parts of Mississippi, were found fatally stabbed Aug. 25 in their home. Sanders said her husband wrestled with demons, including seeing his mother killed when he was 5.

During her husband’s initial court appearance Aug. 29 in Durant, Marie Sanders broke into sobs and apologized to relatives of the nuns. Some of them hugged her and whispered to her.

“They told me they love me, they love (Rodney), they said God forgives,” said Marie Sanders, who married her husband in 2012. “That was the hardest thing. I didn’t think I could make it because I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry to this family because that was such a great loss. These were women of God…. For them to embrace me the way they did and tell me that they appreciate me, they love me, God loves me, they forgive, the sisters would want them to forgive … that was a hard pill to swallow.”

At Lexington Medical Clinic, about 10 miles west of Durant, Held and Merrill often treated poor and uninsured patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions. The clinic and the nuns’ home in Durant are in Holmes County, population 18,000. With 44 percent of its residents living in poverty, Holmes is the seventh-poorest county in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Capital murder under Mississippi law is a killing committed along with another felony. It is punishable by death or life in prison. The nuns’ religious orders have spoken against execution, and the district attorney has not said whether she will pursue the death penalty against Sanders, who is charged with two counts of capital murder, one count of burglary and one count of grand larceny.

The nuns’ funerals were held Friday. Merrill was buried in Kentucky, where she belonged to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Held was buried in Wisconsin, where she was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee

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