O’Donnell guilty plea: ‘I intentionally killed her, then hid the body'

Collins's son describes horrific moment he found his mother's body

O’Donnell guilty plea: ‘I intentionally killed her, then hid the body'
The woman accused of killing a former Arkansas state senator at her home in Pocahontas will spend the rest of her life in prison. (Source: Ken Yang, Spokesman for the family of Linda Collins)

POCAHONTAS, Ark. (KAIT) - The woman accused of killing a former Arkansas state senator at her home in Pocahontas will spend the next 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to her murder.

It is the latest and final twist in a murder investigation that garnered national attention.

Rebecca “Becky” O’Donnell previously pleaded not guilty to capital murder in the death of Linda Collins.

During a court hearing at the Randolph County Courthouse on Thursday, O’Donnell changed her plea to guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse.

“I went to Linda’s house, and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” O’Donnell told the judge, according to our content partner KATV’s Janelle Lilley, who was also in the courtroom.

She also pleaded “no contest” to two counts of solicitation to commit capital murder in the Jackson County case. The plea will be treated as a guilty plea. according to Lilley.

O’Donnell remained stoic as Judge John Fogleman reviewed the plea deal. She answered his questions calmly with no display of emotion. Neither Collins nor O’Donnell’s family members showed any emotion as she entered her plea.

After reviewing the case, Fogleman sentenced O’Donnell to a total of 50 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections:

  • 40 years on the first charge of murder and 3 years on the charge of abusing a corpse.
  • He also sentenced her to 7 years each for the two Jackson County charges of solicitation to commit capital murder.
  • The two Jackson County charges will run concurrently (same time) but will be added to the Randolph County sentence of 43 years for a total of 50 years.

“We know that there will be some who are not satisfied with the outcome today,” Linda Collins’s daughter said following the hearing. “We realize that no matter what punishment Rebecca O’Donnell receives, it will never be enough.”

However, she said it brings some “shred of peace that Rebecca O’Donnell will be put away in prison for a very long time, unable to hurt anyone else.”

Collins’s son, Butch Smith, called the murder of his mother “an awful deed, carried out of hate, jealousy, and greed.”

He believes O’Donnell was stealing money from Collins and when the former state senator confronted her, “she snapped and stabbed my mother to death in a fit of rage and perceived self-preserverance (to try to prevent herself from going to jail).”

Butch Smith confirmed he found his mother’s body, wrapped in one of his old comforters and shoved under a tarp in her driveway.

“I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain,” Smith said. “The smell of the dead body laying outside wrapped up and under a tarp for approximately a week in a hot Arkansas summer was nausea inducing in and of itself. The swarm of flies that flew out and surrounded me. The sight of her white blonde hair moving because of the number of maggots crawling on her. The last memory of her that I have was of me making that 911 call and trying not to vomit all over at the sight and smell of my mother’s body.”

Sheriff Kevin Bell told Region 8 News’ Miranda Reynolds that O’Donnell stabbed Collins to death.

Statement from Daughter of Linda Collins:

“Today Rebecca O’Donnell pleaded guilty to killing my mother, to abuse of my mother’s body and no contest of solicitation to commit capital murder. Today our family has found swift justice by way of a plea deal.

We know that there will be some who are not satisfied with the outcome today. We realize that no matter what punishment Rebecca O’Donnell receives, it will never be enough. It will never bring my grandpas daughter back, or our mother back, or our children’s grandmother back. 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 Rebecca O’Donnell will be put away in prison for a very long time, unable to hurt anyone else.

If Mom was here today, I have no doubt that she would quote the Bible and tell us that we can find peace in God. We know one day Rebecca O’Donnell will have to answer for her sins before the judgment seat of Christ. In Romans Chapter 12 Verse 19 it says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” While our efforts of seeking justice on Earth may fall short in our eyes, it is guaranteed by God that justice will be fully served swiftly and justly when we are called to answer for our sins before Him.

Thank you all again for your thoughts and prayers for our family during this case. We want to again thank the Arkansas State Police and the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department for their hard work. Without your efforts, this case would not have been solved so quickly but also for keeping our families safety and privacy a priority as well.”

Statement from Son of Linda Collins:

“I am Butch Smith, Linda’s oldest child. Some of you may remember me from managing the hotels or out with mom at political events over the years. I would like to say that what happened to my mother was an awful deed, carried out of hate, jealousy, and greed. I believe that Rebecca O’Donnell was stealing money from my mother and when my mother confronted her about it, she snapped and stabbed my mother to death in a fit of rage and perceived self-perseverance (to try to prevent herself from going to jail). As some news agencies have reported, I did find my mother’s body on June 4th at her home. She was lying face down, wrapped in one of my old comforters and shoved underneath a tarp in her driveway. I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain. The smell of the dead body laying outside wrapped up and under a tarp for approximately a week in a hot Arkansas summer was nausea inducing in and of itself. The swarm of flies that flew out and surrounded me. The sight of her white blonde hair moving because of the number of maggots crawling on her. The last memory of her that I have was of me making that 911 call and trying not to vomit all over at the sight and smell of my mother’s body.

My thought on the conclusion of this case is that none of the punishments allowed per Arkansas state law will come close to what I feel is right and equal punishment for her. The plea deal was not what my first choice would have been but at least we do have a guaranteed amount of time that she will be imprisoned for and we will have the ability as the victim’s family to argue against her release at her parole hearings.

I would personally like to thank the Lead Investigator, Creston Hutton, of the Arkansas State Police, the Randolph County Sheriff, Kevin Bell and everyone else that worked their butts off to make sure that no stone was unturned, that no piece of evidence was overlooked, and that the safety, security, and privacy of my family were first and foremost during the entire investigation. Thank you all for the well wishes, the happy thoughts, the amazing stories that you all have shared. Thank you.”

Background

Linda Collins was found dead on June 4, 2019 outside her home on Highway 90 West.

Former St. Sen. Linda Collins-Smith was found dead. (Source: KAIT)
Former St. Sen. Linda Collins-Smith was found dead. (Source: KAIT) (Source: KAIT)

When police found her body, they could not immediately confirm Collins’s identity.

“The condition of the body prevented any immediate positive identification,” Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said during a June 6 news conference.

For more than a week the Pocahontas community and those who worked with Collins during her time in the General Assembly in Little Rock waited for news of an arrest.

That news came on June 14, 2019.

Authorities arrested O’Donnell at 4 p.m. during a traffic stop on Highway 62 West. She was headed to Collins’s memorial service.

Instead of arriving at the funeral home, she arrived in a jail cell.

Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell was arrested in connection with the murder of former State Senator Linda Collins.
Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell was arrested in connection with the murder of former State Senator Linda Collins. (Source: Randolph Co. Sheriff's Office)

It was news that shocked Collins’s friends and family.

She and O’Donnell had been close friends and were seen together in photographs on social media. O’Donnell worked with Collins on her last political campaign and was a witness in Collins’s divorce from her ex-husband.

“We are sickened and upset that someone so close to Linda would be involved in such a terrible, heartless crime,” the Collins family said in a statement released to Region 8 News.

New Judges, New Prosecutors

In the weeks and months following O’Donnell’s arrest, the case kept taking turn after turn.

Several judges were appointed, then recused on the case.

Judge Harold Erwin was the original judge. For unknown reasons, he recused himself, but not before sealing the records thus preventing information on the investigation from being released.

Retired Circuit Judge David Goodson of Paragould then found himself on the case, thanks to an appointment from the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Goodson eventually asked for his assignment to end.

GF Default - Murder suspect Rebecca O'Donnell led into court
GF Default - Murder suspect Rebecca O'Donnell led into court

Second Judicial Circuit Judge John Fogleman became the final judge to oversee the hearings. He’s presided on the case since late November 2019.

In December 2019, Third Judicial District Prosecutor Henry Boyce also stepped down from the case.

Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dan Kemp appointed a longtime prosecutor from south Arkansas to the case. Robert Dittrich of Stuttgart has been prosecuting the case since then, leading to the guilty plea from O’Donnell.

Motive & Search Warrants

The big question surrounding Collins’s murder was: Why?

Why did Becky O’Donnell murder her close friend?

In an April 2020 court filing, prosecutors said the murder was committed for monetary gain and to avoid arrest. But they didn’t elaborate past that.

Most of the information about what prosecutors were using for evidence came in the form of search warrants.

Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell update on status of homicide investigation at home of Linda Collins-Smith.
Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell update on status of homicide investigation at home of Linda Collins-Smith. (Source: KAIT)

In April, Judge Fogleman signed a search warrant to allow investigators to look through a 2011 Ford Focus belonging to O’Donnell’s mother. Another search warrant allowed authorities to search computers and storage devices Collins owned and the Rock & Roll Highway 67 Inn / Zenas Hospitality Corporation.

Other search warrants involved Collins’s Google account – including her email and list of logins from May 25, 2019 through June 4, 2019.

Standing by His Woman

As Becky O’Donnell sat in a jail cell, a key figure who supported her was Tim Loggains, her fiancé.

GF Default - Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell's fiance speaks out
GF Default - Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell's fiance speaks out

He spoke with ABC’s TJ Holmes on June 26, 2019. He said he believed police made a huge and inexplicable error.

“I just told her, they found Linda dead,” Loggains said in the 2019 interview. “She collapsed.”

Loggains said O’Donnell was the last person known to have seen Collins alive on May 28 when the woman took her to lunch. He described their relationship has being more than friends. He said they were like sisters.

ABC News' T.J. Holmes interviewed Rebecca O'Donnell's fiance who claimed she was "not capable of this."
ABC News' T.J. Holmes interviewed Rebecca O'Donnell's fiance who claimed she was "not capable of this."

They were so close that Loggains said O’Donnell was a corroborating witness in Collins’s divorce and he had power of attorney over Collins and oversaw some of her financial matters which he admitted brought him under some public scrutiny.

“She’s not capable of this,” Loggains told Holmes in that interview. “Either she is the best actress in the world and completely fooled me or there’s not a chance she did this.”

Jackson County, Ark. Charges

O’Donnell spent her time in jail in the Jackson County Detention Center.

It was in those jail cells that she found herself in more trouble.

Attorneys discussed jury trial selection and size. Both sides agreed they’d like to see small numbers in jury size.
Attorneys discussed jury trial selection and size. Both sides agreed they’d like to see small numbers in jury size. (Source: KAIT-TV)

In January 2020, O’Donnell appeared in court on new charges. She was accused of attempting to hire several inmates to kill Collins’s ex-husband, prosecutor Henry Boyce, and Judge Harold Erwin.

One of the inmates told investigators that O’Donnell wanted the death of Collins’s ex-husband to look like a suicide. She told the inmate, court records revealed, to steal Smith’s gold and silver as payment for the hit job.

O’Donnell also told the inmate to destroy her car which was being held in Randolph County as investigators looked for evidence.

During Thursday’s hearing, the State said it had video evidence from inside the jail of O’Donnell passing a note to one of the inmates. The FBI confirmed it was in O’Donnell’s handwriting.

Conclusion

Turn after turn, the Linda Collins murder case captivated the Pocahontas community and the country.

Despite changes in judges and prosecutors and numerous motions and search warrants, the case ended without a trial.

On Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, Rebecca O’Donnell accepted a plea deal from the state.

With her guilty plea and 50-year sentence, she will likely spend the rest of her life in prison. It also brings the murder investigation of Linda Collins to a close 1 year, 2 months and 2 days after Collins’ was found dead.

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