Suspect Arrested for Murder of Former Arkansas State Senator

State Police and Randolph County Sheriff's deputies on Friday announced they detained 48-year-old Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell in the ex-lawmaker's death.
by | June 18, 2019 AT 8:43 AM
Linda Collins-Smith
Ex-Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (AP/Danny Johnston)

By Jessica Schladebeck

An Arkansas woman has been arrested in connection with the murder of former state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, who was found dead in her home earlier this month.

State Police and Randolph County Sheriff's deputies on Friday announced they detained 48-year-old Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell in the ex-lawmaker's death. Criminal charges against the suspect are pending, according to a press release from the state police.

Officials said they would not release additional details as "the investigation is presently at a critical juncture," adding no more information will be released "until authorities are confident it will not compromise the integrity of the criminal case."

Collins-Smith was found dead on June 4 inside her home in Pocahontas, located about 130 miles northeast of the state's capital, Little Rock. By the time authorities found her, the former senator's body had already begun to decompose, the Arkansas Times reported.

While police have not confirmed the cause of death, her former press secretary, Ken Yang told KATV that neighbors heard gunshots days before Collins-Smith's body was discovered, reportedly wrapped in some type of cloth or blanket.

Yang on Friday released a statement on the family's behalf on Facebook shortly after the arrest was announced.

"This evening our family received news that an arrest was made in connection to the ongoing investigation. We are sickened and upset that someone so close to Linda would be involved in such a terrible, heartless crime," it read.

"The family is very confident that the Randolph County Sheriff's Department and the Arkansas State Police will continue to work diligently to bring justice to this case. We would like to thank everyone for the continued prayers and thoughts for our family during this difficult time."

When asked to clarify the relationship between Collins-Smith and O'Donnell, authorities told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette none of the investigators are "prepared to say with certainty that there is a connection at all and that this was not a chance encounter."

Collins-Smith was first elected to the state senate in 2014 for District 19, which includes eastern Fulton County and all of Izard, Sharp, Independence and Randolph counties. She lost her re-election bid to James Sturch in 2018.

During her time in office, Collins-Smith proposed a controversial bill that would have required people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender specified on their birth certificate -- similar to a North Carolina bill passed and then repealed in 2017 after widespread protests.

Prior to her time in the Senate, Collins-Smith served a term in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. While she was elected as a Democrat, she switched over the Republican Party just months after taking office.

"She was a passionate voice for her people and a close member of our Republican family," Arkansas GOP tweeted earlier this month. "We are praying for her loved ones during this difficult time."

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