Ex-aide pleads guilty to murder of conservative Arkansas state senator Linda Collins

Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell was sentenced to 50 years in prison under a deal with prosecutors

An Arkansas woman was sentenced Thursday to 50 years in prison under a deal with prosecutors in the murder of a former conservative state lawmaker, according to reports.

Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins, who was found dead last year from multiple stab wounds outside her home.

O’Donnell, 49, also pleaded no contest to two counts of criminal solicitation in a separate case. She was accused of asking fellow inmates to kill Collins’ ex-husband and others while she was in jail.

​​​​​​​Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, right, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins, left. (Facebook)

​​​​​​​Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, right, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins, left. (Facebook)

EX-ARKANSAS STATE SENATOR’S CAMPAIGN STAFFER, ‘FRIEND’ CHARGED IN POLITICIAN’S MURDER 

Collins, who went by Collins-Smith in the Legislature, was found dead on June 4, 2019, outside her home in Pocahontas, about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock.

“No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that Rebecca O’Donnell made in our lives the day she killed our mother,” Tate Williams, Collins’ daughter, said after the hearing. “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.”

O’Donnell was originally charged with capital murder and prosecutors last year said they planned to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors in April said O’Donnell killed Collins for money and to avoid arrest; the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that O'Donnell didn't provide a motive for the murder.

“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,” said Collins’ son, Butch Smith, who found his mother’s body.

In this Jan. 28, 2015, file photo, Sen. Linda Collins, R-Pocahontas, speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell on Aug. 6, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Collins. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

In this Jan. 28, 2015, file photo, Sen. Linda Collins, R-Pocahontas, speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell on Aug. 6, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Collins. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

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Collins served one term in the state House and was originally elected as a Democrat in 2010. She switched parties and became a Republican in 2011, a year before the GOP won control of both chambers of the Legislature. She was elected to the state Senate in 2014 and was one of the most conservative lawmakers in the majority-GOP chamber.

O’Donnell worked on Collins’ unsuccessful reelection campaign in 2018 and was a witness in the former lawmaker’s divorce proceedings. Collins divorced retired Circuit Judge Philip Smith in 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.