In a shocking reversal, the staffer accused of killing former Arkansas state Senator Linda Collins pleaded guilty to the crime on Thursday and was sentenced to 50 years in prison, KAIT reports.
Rebecca O’Donnell, 49, was charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in Randolph County in June 2019. Earlier this year, she was charged in Jackson County, where she is jailed, with solicitation to commit capital murder and solicitation to tamper with evidence for allegedly attempting to recruit inmates to kill Collins’ ex-husband and new wife, in addition to a judge and prosecutor previously involved in her Randolph County case, as CrimeOnline previously reported.
O’Donnell initially pleaded not guilty to the the charges relating to Collins’s death. On Thursday, she pleaded guilty to first degree murder and abuse of a corpse and no contest to the solicitation charges.
Judge John Fogleman accepted the deal for the pleas, sentencing her to 40 years on the murder charge, three years on the charge of abusing a corpse, and seven years each — to be served concurrently — on the solicitation charges.
“I went to Linda’s house, and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body,” O’Donnell told the judge, according to KAIT.
Collins’s son Butch Smith was found dead wrapped in a blanket under a tarp in the driveway of her home in Pocahontas on June 4, 2019. The body’s condition prevented immediate confirmation of the identity, but Smith said Thursday after the hearing he knew it was his mother:
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.
O’Donnell, who had been a campaign aide for Collins and reportedly was a close friend, was arrested on June 14 while on her way to Collins’s memorial service.
Smith said he believes O’Donnell had been stealing from his 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,” he said.
“What happened to my mother was an awful deed, carried out of hate, jealousy, and greed,” he said.
Collins’s daughter, who was not identified, said her mother would have encourage everyone to “find peace with God.”
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.
The first two judges assigned to the case stepped away from it — and the first judge sealed the records to that information about the investigation could not be released. The first prosecutor assigned to the case also stepped down from it. Fogleman was assigned the case in late November 2019, and Robert Dittrich was assigned as the prosecutor in December.
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[Featured image: Linda Collins, Rebecca O’Donnell/Facebook]