A woman awaiting trial for allegedly killing a former Arkansas state senator was hit with new charges Tuesday after she promised fellow inmates she would give them “gold and silver” to murder the victim’s ex-husband and his new wife, prosecutors said.
Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, who pleaded not guilty to several charges in the June murder of former State Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, was slapped with two counts of soliciting to commit murder and two counts of solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence in connection with the elaborate plot she allegedly tried to orchestrate from prison.
The former campaign staffer for Collins-Smith has been behind bars since June 14—10 days after the 57-year-old Republican was found fatally stabbed and wrapped in a blanket under a tarp at the end of her Pocahontas, Arkansas, driveway.
Authorities at the time said O’Donnell was caught on video removing Collins-Smith’s home surveillance cameras on May 28, 2019—the last day the politician was seen alive—but have not elaborated on the details of the murder due to a gag order. O’Donnell, 49, faces the death penalty on the original murder charges and is being held without bond in Jackson County.
“These newest charges further cement in our minds that the police have arrested the right person. Rebecca O’Donnell’s threats are being treated very seriously but have not deterred our faith in what we are committed to: justice for Linda,” the family of Collins-Smith said in a Wednesday statement to The Daily Beast. “Thank you all for your continued support, prayers and well wishes.”
According to several jailhouse informants, O’Donnell allegedly tried to hire two fellow inmates to stage a murder-suicide at the home of the lawmaker’s ex, former state Judge Phil Smith, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in the Jackson County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
During a Nov. 7 interview, one of the inmates told an Arkansas State Police special agent that O’Donnell wanted her to “shoot or hang Mr. Smith” and include a “suicide note” that the 49-year-old had handwritten, the affidavit states. The same inmate was then told to pack a bag to make it seem like his new wife “was in the process of leaving him,” the affidavit states.
Prosecutors allege O’Donnell told other inmates that “Phil Smith needed to be killed” so that “charges would be dropped off her.” In exchange for the hits, the inmates were told they could take a bag of “gold and silver” from Smith’s home—which investigators said had been appraised to be worth between $20,000 and $30,000 during his divorce.
O’Donnell, in addition to working on Collins-Smith’s campaign, had served as a witness in the couple’s acrimonious divorce, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The former campaign staffer also allegedly tried to enlist the inmates to go to Randolph County Jail to blow up her 2005 Honda Civic so she could “destroy any evidence” that could be used in her murder trial because “police had planted stuff in her truck,” the affidavit states. On top of that, she allegedly asked two inmates to kill a judge and prosecutor connected to her murder case.
The prosecutor, Henry Boyce, was taken off the case in December without citing a reason.
“My family’s faith in Becky is unwavering. We cannot imagine the evidence will actually substantiate these allegations. The allegations defy believability. I won’t even comment on the informant’s extensive criminal history but instead will wait to see if the state produces credible evidence at trial,” Tim Loggains, O’Donnell’s fiancé, said a statement.
One inmate told police that while she never considered killing Smith, she was worried “a more gullible” inmate might. The three other inmates who reported O’Donnell also stated they refused the murder requests.
O’Donnell’s defense attorney, Lee Short, denied the allegations in a statement to ABC News, casting doubt on the inmates’ credibility, insisting they had an incentive to offer information for a reduced punishment. Short did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
“It’s not surprising at all—inmates do it all the time,” Short said. “In high-profile cases, especially homicides, people tend to seek opportunities to improve their situations by giving statements against people.”
Collins-Smith was first elected to the state senate in 2014 but lost her re-election bid in 2018. Prior to her time in the Senate, the lawmaker served in the statehouse of representatives from 2011 to 2013. While she was elected as a Democrat, Collins-Smith switched parties just months after taking office, citing a change in “ideals.”