On paper, it looked as if Rodney Sanders was destined to kill someone one day. But his criminal history would have suggested he might have done so behind the wheel while drunk.
Sanders has been charged with capital murder in the slayings of Sister Paula Merrill and Sister Margaret Held in Durant last week. Authorities said the nuns had declined his offer to mow the grass at their home a few days before their deaths. It’s unclear whether there had been any interaction between Sanders and the nuns before that encounter.
Although the causes of their deaths have not been revealed, the 68-year-old women were discovered to have been stabbed when their bodies were found in their home Aug. 25.
Sanders’ criminal history shows he had been arrested nine times for drunken driving. Only one of those cases is still pending, and he’s under indictment for the alleged crime now.
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Some of Sanders’ previous charges are in Iowa Department of Corrections records. Sanders has six arrests for operating a vehicle while intoxicated — Iowa’s version of Mississippi’s driving under the influence.
The other three charges are in Mississippi.
His criminal history doesn’t end there.
Fred Scaletta, assistant director of the Iowa DOC, said Sanders also had a domestic assault charge, for which he spent 48 days in jail, and a charge of interfering with official acts-injury. Scaletta said that amounts to assault on a police officer, causing injury. That charge is classified as a “serious misdemeanor” in Iowa, and online records show he spent 18 days in jail after he was charged.
Sanders’ record in Iowa spans from 1992 through 2011, according to online records. He was in prison from June 2004 to February 2011 after a conviction for second-degree robbery and from August 1999 to August 2002 after a conviction for theft. He was behind bars from April to October 1996 for two counts of third-offense drunken driving.
He was convicted of armed robbery in Holmes County and served six years after being sentenced in 1986.
Since coming back to Mississippi, Sanders has racked up three DUI arrests. In October 2014, he was arrested for driving without a license, disregarding a traffic device and felony DUI, Kosciusko Police Chief Herbert Dew said. In addition, Kosciusko police charged Sanders with public profanity when he was involved in an altercation at an apartment complex and cursed at the police, Dew said.
The Attala County Sheriff’s Department arrested him in February 2015 for DUI and driving with a suspended license, to which he pleaded guilty and was paying fines, according to records at the Attala County Courthouse.
He was arrested again for third-offense DUI, driving on the wrong side of the road and driving with a suspended license on June 5 and was indicted Aug. 9, according to records at the Attala County Courthouse and jail.
Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said Thursday that preliminary autopsy results for Merrill and Held still are not in and that no further comment will be made on the case until next week.
Authorities won’t comment on whether Sanders could have been drinking the night he is accused of killing the two women.
Dew, who is originally from Durant, said he is close to Sanders’ age but wasn’t familiar with him from Durant or Kosciusko before the nuns’ slayings.
“Really, I don’t know anything about him. I went to school in Durant and graduated from Durant, but I don’t know him,” Dew said.
Merrill’s and Held’s families and the other nuns in their orders have asked the courts not to execute Sanders if he’s found guilty.
“We respect life from its beginning to its end, and we do not believe that the death penalty is right,” Sister Maria Vincent Brocato of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth told The Clarion-Ledger’s Sarah Fowler. “Punishment, yes; revenge, no.”
Read more at The Clarion-Ledger’s website.