Rebecca O’Donnell pleaded guilty Thursday in the death of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The plea deal includes charges of first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and two no-contest pleas to solicit murder in Jackson County.
O’Donnell had worked for Smith in her business ventures and on political campaigns. Had she not accepted the deal, O’Donnell was facing a potential death sentence if the case went to trial.
“I went to Linda’s house, and intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” O’Donnell reportedly said in court Thursday morning.
Details of how she committed the murder were released by Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell following the sentencing hearing. Bell said that Collins was stabbed to death. The motive was financial, according to prosecutors. Additional details of the killing and the motive were not immediately available.
Smith’s body was found at her Pocahontas-area home June 4, 2019, after she had been missing for several days, according to police. Days after her body was discovered, O’Donnell was arrested on her way to Smith’s visitation and she was charged with capital murder. Former State Sen. Linda Collins-Smith.
The case made national headlines. Smith served as a state representative and then as a state senator. She started her career as a Democrat, but switched parties after her first election in 2010.
Smith ran for and won a state senate seat in 2014. In 2018, she supported Jan Morgan’s bid to unseat Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the Republican primary. Hutchinson easily defeated Morgan, and Smith was defeated in her own primary by State Sen. James Sturch, R-Batesville.
While awaiting trial, O’Donnell allgedly tried to solicit inmates inside the Jackson County Detention Center to murder several people connected to Smith’s case. Those people included the former Judge Harold Erwin, Prosecutor Henry Boyce and Smith’s husband at the time of her death, Phil Smith, and the woman he married after the murder.
Erwin and Boyce recused themselves from the case as it unfolded. The solicitation for murder charges carried a seven-year sentence and were folded into the 57 years she was sentenced to. O’Donnell is expected to begin her state incarceration immediately.