A former aide and close friend of the late Arkansas State Senator Linda Collins pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of Collins, who was found hidden in a tarp outside her home.
Rebecca O’Donnell was sentenced to 40 years behind bars for the slaying, along with three years for abusing her corpse and two seven-year sentences—to run concurrently—for trying to solicit the murder of Collins’ ex-husband from jail, local station KATV reports.
Collins’ body was discovered on June 4, 2019 outside her Pocahontas home so damaged it was initially hard for investigators to make a positive identification, according to ABC News.
“The last memory of her that I have was of me making the 911 call and trying not to vomit all over at the sight and smell of my mother’s body,” Collins’ son Butch Smith said Thursday in a statement read in court, according to KATV. “The plea deal is not what my first choice would have been, but at least we have a guaranteed amount of time that she will be imprisoned for.”
Smith discovered the body lying face down, wrapped in an old comforter and shoved under a tarp in the driveway of Collins’ home.
“I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain,” he said.
Smith said in the statement that O’Donnell—who had worked as Collins’ aide before she worked as an employee in Collins’ business—had been stealing money and “snapped” and killed his mother after she'd discovered the theft.
Few details have been released about what led to the fatal stabbing after the initial judge overseeing the case sealed the court records.
Judge John Fogleman said Thursday that in light of the plea agreement, the documents will be released within the next week—possibly providing new details about what prompted the homicide, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
O’Donnell admitted in court that she had killed her close friend.
“I went to Linda’s house and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” she told the judge, according to KATV.
O’Donnell’s one-time fiancé Tim Loggains told ABC News in June 2019 that the Collins was last seen alive when the two women had gone to lunch together.
He initially told the outlet last year that there was no way O’Donnell was “capable” of killing the woman he said had been like a sister to her; however, in a recent statement he said he come to accept her involvement in the slaying.
"Initially, for various reasons, I believed with all my heart that Becky was innocent," he said, according to ABC News. "No one wants to believe anyone close to them is capable of doing something so heinous. My heart at that time would not let me believe what I later learned to be true – that Becky murdered Linda. That realization was one of the most difficult of my life. To accept that I lived with someone so deviant, someone who could not only take a life but the life of someone who helped her in so many ways, without any indication of the darkness in her heart, was heartbreaking."
Collins’ daughter said in a statement in court Thursday that the family has been able to find “swift justice” through the plea deal.
"No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that Rebecca O'Donnell made in our lives the day she killed our mother,” she said, according to KATV. “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."
After the plea agreement was made, Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said he was “pleased” with the outcome of the case.
“The bottom line is Ms. O’Donnell is probably going to spend the rest of her life in Arkansas prison and that’s exactly where she needs to be,” he said, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
In addition to being sentenced for the slaying, O’Donnell also agreed to plead “no contest” to two counts of solicitation to commit capital murder in Jackson County.
She had been accused of trying to hire fellow inmates to kill Collins’ ex-husband Phil Smith to make it look like a suicide.
She had allegedly planned to frame Smith for the Collins’ murder, according to the local paper.
Prosecutors said they had video evidence showing O’Donnell passing a note to inmates while she was being held at the Jackson County jail, describing what the alleged suicide note should say.
Collins had served as a Republican state representative from 2011-2013. She served in the state senate from 2015-2019.
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