POCAHONTAS, Ark. — Rebecca O'Donnell has pleaded guilty to the 2019 murder of former State Senator Linda Collins and was sentenced to 50 years in prison Thursday.
Police found the body of Collins on June 4, 2019 outside of her house in Pocahontas where she reportedly died from stab wounds.
O'Donnell, who was a former campaign worker and friend of Collins, was arrested nearly two weeks later and charged with capital murder, tampering with physical evidence, and abuse of a corpse.
She originally pleaded not guilty to those charges. During a Thursday morning hearing, O'Donnell changed her plea to guilty of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. She also entered a plea of "no contest" on two charges of solicitation to commit murder in Jackson County.
Under the plea deal, O'Donnell was sentenced to a total of 50 years in prison.
"She admitted that she intentionally killed Linda Collins-Smith," Lee Short, O'Donnell's defense attorney said. "She also stated that she concealed her body after she killed her."
Throughout the investigation, information about O'Donnell's motive has been limited.
"I don't believe we'll ever know," Short said. "She wasn't asked that question. It's not a requirement under the law, and she's never publicly disclosed the motive."
Collins' adult children spoke outside the courthouse following Thursday's hearing.
"What happened to my mother was an awful deed, carried out of hate, jealousy, and greed," Butch Smith, Collins' son, said. "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 [sic]."
Smith located his mother's body on June 4, 2019. According to Smith, it was wrapped in one of his old comforters and placed underneath a tarp in her driveway.
"I will never not be able to see that picture burned into my brain: the smell of a dead body laying outside wrapped up in that tarp for approximately a week in the Arkansas summer, 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 scalp," Smith said.
"The last memory of her that I have was of me making a 911 call and trying not to vomit at the sight and smell of my mother’s body," he said. "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."
Collins' daughter, Tate Williams, called the plea agreement "swift justice" for the family.
"No amount of punishment will ever fill that void that Rebecca O’Donnell made in our lives the day she killed our mother," Williams said through tears. "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."
To read a transcript of the family's full statements, click here.
O'Donnell will be eligible for parole in approximately 30 years, according to her attorney.
Judge John Fogleman said previously sealed documents related to the case will become public in the coming days, once sensitive information is redacted.
We will update this article with more information as it becomes available.