Nuns’ autopsy still pending

An autopsy report for two nuns killed five months ago in Durant has still not been completed.

The Mississippi medical examiner is still working on the report Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain told The Associated Press last week that the report could be finished in the next two or three weeks.

"The Department of Public Safety is moving as expeditiously as possible without compromising the integrity of the case," Strain said Friday to the AP. "The case file is complete with the exception of the complete and final autopsy report from the state medical examiner."

District Attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver said she is waiting for the information before presenting the case to a grand jury.

The bodies of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, both 68, were found Aug. 25 in their Durant home after they failed to show up at the health clinic where they worked as nurse practitioners in Lexington.

Rodney Earl Sanders, of Kosciusko, was charged with two counts of capital murder a day later and remains in jail without bond.

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.

The nuns' relatives and colleagues have said they oppose the death penalty, including for Sanders.

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent LeCarus Oliver testified during a hearing Sept. 16 in Durant Municipal Court that Sanders had been staying in a shed across the street from the sisters' home for three days before the slayings. Oliver testified that he was not in the room when Sanders confessed, but Sanders' questioning by other investigators was captured on an audio recording.

"He did acknowledge killing Paula Merrill and Margaret Held," Oliver testified.

“Sanders told investigators that he went through the back door of the sisters' home, uninvited. Sanders said Merrill saw him first before a struggle took place with both women,” Oliver added in his testimony.

Sanders is being represented by Richard Carter III of Kosciusko as a public defender.