Rodney Earl Sanders pleads guilty in 2016 nun murders 

A Mississippi man pleaded guilty on Thursday morning to killing and raping two nuns in 2016, in order to avoid the death penalty.

Rodney Earl Sanders of Kosciusko, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to breaking into the home of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, raping and murdering them, and stealing their car, according to MSNewsNow. The two nuns were nurse practitioners, both aged 68, who worked at a health clinic in Lexington, Mississippi. District Attorney Akillie Malone-Oliver said that she spoke with the Held’s and Merrill’s families before agreeing that Sanders could plead guilty to capital murder in exchange for receiving life without parole. Malone-Oliver also took into account the fact that the orders in which the two nuns served, and the Catholic Church in general, oppose the death penalty, according to The Associated Press.

Acquaintances and family members of the nuns who attended the Thursday hearing told the presiding judge about the ways that Held and Merrill had served the medical community of Holmes County, which is one of the poorest counties in the nation. (RELATED: Eighty-Seven-Year-Old New York Priest Beaten And Robbed At Home)

“Life without parole is the highest punishment, other than death,” Malone-Oliver said, according to The Clarion-Ledger.

Authorities found Held and Merrill on Aug. 25, 2016 in their home in the town of Durant after they failed to show up for work at the health clinic in Lexington. They determined the sisters had been stabbed to death in the chest and eyes.