Friend of slain former Arkansas state senator charged with murder

By Erin Donaghue

/ CBS News

Arrest made in death of Arkansas politician

A friend of a former Arkansas state senator found slain has been formally charged with murder and appeared in court Monday morning. 48-year-old Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell was charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in the death of former Arkansas State Senator Linda Collins-Smith. O'Donnell, of Pocahontas, was arrested Friday in the death Collins-Smith, who was found dead outside her home about two hours northeast of Little Rock on June 4.

O'Donnell was ordered held without bond during a brief court appearance Monday, reports CBS affiliate TVH11. O'Donnell appeared with her hands shackled, wearing a checkered black-and-gray jail uniform and a bullet-proof vest, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. O'Donnell appeared with a public defender, who filed an affidavit of indigency, according to the paper. She reportedly didn't speak.

Documents in the case have reportedly been sealed and police have released few details about the circumstances surrounding the death of Collins-Smith, who was elected to the state senate as a Republican in 2014 but lost a re-election bid last year. The former senator's body was found in an "advanced state of decomposition" and it took authorities two days to identify the remains using dental records, the paper reports, citing a statement by prosecuting attorney Henry Boyce.

Former Arkansas State Senator Linda Collins-Smith, left, and Rebecca O'Donnell, right, the woman charged in her death TVH11

After O'Donnell was arrested Friday by the Randolph County Sheriff's office and Arkansas State Police, state officials said the investigation was at a "critical juncture" and no further information would be released "until authorities are confident it will not compromise the integrity of the criminal case."

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According to Ken Yang, a former communications director for Collins, O'Donnell had worked on the former lawmaker's most recent campaign and the two of them were "good friends."

"They traveled together and did grassroots stuff, even after Linda lost her re-election," Yang told CBS News' Jericka Duncan.

Family members of Collins-Smith released a statement saying, "We are sickened and upset that someone so close to Linda would be involved in such a heartless crime."

First published on June 17, 2019 / 1:46 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erin Donaghue

Erin Donaghue reports and writes for CBSNews.com on topics including criminal justice, social justice and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @ErinDonaghue.

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