Murderer mystery solved: Friend admits killing former Arkansas state senator in shock plea

'I went to Linda's house and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,' Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell told a judge

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After first protesting her innocence, the suspect in a murder mystery that’s gripped a small town in Arkansas has pleaded guilty to murdering her close friend, former state senator Linda Collins-Smith, last June and will serve 50 years in prison.

“I went to Linda’s house and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell told a judge, ABC News reported.

O’Donnell had worked as an aide to the senator and later as an employee at one of her businesses. In 2018, she worked on Collins-Smith’s unsuccessful reelection campaign and even testified as a witness in the lawmaker’s divorce proceedings, CBS News reported.

The plea change comes a year after case prosecutors said they intended to seek the death penalty for O’Donnell if convicted. O’Donnell had initially pleaded not guilty to capital murder, but changed her plea to guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. She also pleaded “no contest” to two counts of plotting a murder-for-hire while she was in custody.


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Prosecutors said in April that they believed O’Donnell killed Collins for money.

In January, authorities said O’Donnell tried to hire her cellmates, on different occasions, to kill Phil Smith, the senator’s ex-husband. She told one of her cellmates she wanted Smith’s death to look like a suicide, CNN reported, and said that as payment, the inmate could steal gold and silver from his house.

O’Donnell will serve 40 years for the murder, 14 years for soliciting a hit-man — which is split into two seven-year sentences, meant to be served concurrently — and three years for abusing the body of Collins-Smith.

Though the case is now closed, the family of Collins-Smith and the town of Pocahontas, Arkansas, are left with many questions.

The killer mutilated the victim’s body so gruesomely that even though Collins-Smith was found dead outside her home, authorities could not immediately identify her.

“I was the one that found my mother’s body on June 4th 2019 at her home,” Collins-Smith’s son, Butch Smith, said in a statement Thursday. “She was lying face down wrapped in one of my old comforters and shoved under a tarp in her driveway.

“I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain.”

The former senator’s son said he believes O’Donnell had been stealing money from his mother and that when she was confronted by Collins-Smith, she stabbed her friend to death. Police arrested O’Donnell a week and a half after the murder, while she was driving to Collins-Smith’s memorial service.


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O’Donnell’s fiancé Tim Loggains described the women as very close friends. Loggains said he had informed O’Donnell of her friend’s death, and O’Donnell had collapsed.

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

On Thursday, Loggains said in a statement that Collins-Smith was a “beautiful soul and dear friend” to him.

“Initially, for various reasons, I believed with all my heart that Becky was innocent,” he said. “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-Smith’s family released a statement after the court proceedings:

“Today our family has found swift justice by way of a plea deal,” the statement reads. “We know that there will be some that will not be satisfied with that outcome today. And we realize that whatever punishment (O’Donnell) receives it will never be enough …. It will never bring my Grandpa’s daughter back or my Mother back or our children’s grandmother back. No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that (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 my Mother was here today I have no doubt that she would quote the Bible and tell us that we can find peace in God.”