Prosecutors in Arkansas plan to use a combination of home-security footage and jailhouse video calls to prove that a former state senator was killed by her longtime friend and employee.
During a pretrial hearing in Pocahontas, Arkansas, on Friday prosecutors told the court they are sorting through a "mountain of evidence" against Rebecca O’Donnell, 49, in the case against former state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, who is charged with killing her friend at her home last year. Collins-Smith’s body was found June 4 after she disappeared in late May.
O’Donnell is facing the death penalty if convicted of murder charges.
Robert Dittrich, recently appointed to prosecute the high-profile case, said he is continuing to go through the vast amount of evidence with investigators, but needs more time. He did not discuss the contents of the footage.
O’Donnell’s attorney, Katherine Streett, said "the volume of video is pretty great," though she did not comment on whether the footage actually shows the homicide occurring. Streett told the court she would seek to have portions of the video excluded from trial, but did not explain what she was hoping to keep out of evidence.
Collins-Smith, 57, was a well-known figure in northeastern Arkansas, both through her work in politics and as a prominent local businesswoman. O’Donnell was Collins-Smith’s business manager; she has pleaded not guilty and her family insists that she would never have harmed her close friend.
The case is the source of considerable controversy since the first judges who oversaw the matter mandated a near-total information blackout through sweeping gag orders and the sealing of files. ABC News and the Arkansas Press Association sued to have those restrictions modified and the new judge on the case, John Fogleman, agreed.
In moving the case toward an Oct. 19 trial date, Fogleman said he has questions about the earlier moves by the prior judge to require all records in the case sealed.
"I spent all afternoon yesterday reviewing what's under seal," Fogleman told the court. "There are some documents that I'm not sure why they're under seal."
Earlier this week, Fogleman lifted the gag order on the state crime lab and FBI agents who have been part of the probe. He said he would be very reluctant to continue to keep records connected to the case under seal.
Outside of court, Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell escorted O’Donnell back to jail and told her not to respond to questions from reporters.
O'Donnell has also been accused of attempting to hire inmates inside the Jackson County Jail to kill several people involved with her case, including a former judge, former prosecutor and Collins-Smith's ex-husband. Her lawyer has told ABC News that those charges are totally bogus.
The trial for charges against O'Donnell in Jackson County is set for December 2020