In a shocking plea, a former aide confesses to killing an Arkansas state senator

In a shocking plea, a former aide confesses to killing an Arkansas state senator

The suspect in the killing of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith has pleaded guilty — a shocking twist to a case that rocked the small community of Pocahontas.

Collins-Smith was found dead in June last year at her home in the town 140 miles from Little Rock. Her former aide and close friend, Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, 49, was arrested shortly afterward.

After months in jail, she admitted to killing the former senator, CNN affiliate KATV reported. “I went to Linda’s house, and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” she told the judge Thursday as part of a plea deal, according to the affiliate.

The victim’s family said O’Donnell was stealing money from the senator and got angry when she was asked about it.

“Our family has found swift justice by way of a plea deal,” the family said in a statement. “No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that Rebecca O’Donnell made in our lives the day she killed our mother. Today we find some shred of peace that O’Donnell will be put away in prison for a very long time, unable to hurt anyone else.”

O’Donnell was charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence. She was sentenced to 40 years for first-degree murder and three years for abuse of a corpse, the affiliate reported.

Additional charges

O’Donnell was also facing additional charges after she attempted to hire inmates to kill the victim’s ex-husband. After she went to jail, she tried to have Phil Smith and his wife killed, prosecutors said.

In October, she told one of the inmates she wanted Smith’s death to look like a suicide complete with a note. And instead of getting payment from her, she told the inmates to steal gold and silver from the couple’s home. One of the inmates was the suspect’s cellmate for three months, according to an affidavit.

O’Donnell told the inmates she was targeting Smith because he had set her up. She also asked the inmates to find her car in police custody and burn it to eliminate evidence that she claimed was planted, the affidavit states.

A series of new charges were filed against her based on information from the jailhouse informants. At the time, prosecutors said they had video evidence.

In the murder-for-hire plot, O’Donnell was charged with solicitation to commit capital murder, and solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence while in custody of the Jackson County Jail, according to court documents.

She pleaded “no contest” to the two counts and got seven years for each, according to the affiliate. The sentences will run concurrently, which means a total of 50 years in prison. She’ll be eligible for parole but the victim’s family said they plan to oppose it.

Her family has previously said it’s standing by her and believes she’s not guilty.

Collins-Smith was a Republican state senator between 2015 and 2019.

Blogs