Suspect in killing of former Arkansas state senator now accused in murder-for-hire plot

Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell allegedly tried to hire women she met in jail.

January 14, 2020, 6:07 PM

A bizarre twist has been uncovered in the case of a woman accused of killing her friend, Linda Collins-Smith, a former Arkansas state senator.

Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell, 49, once an aide to Collins-Smith and an employee at the former senator's business, was charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence after Collins-Smith was found dead at her home in Pocahontas, some 145 miles northeast of Little Rock, on June 4.

Now, prosecutors allege O'Donnell wanted to hire someone to kill Collins-Smith's ex-husband and his new wife while in jail.

New charges were filed Tuesday against O'Donnell based on testimony of jailhouse informants, including two felony counts of solicitation to commit capital murder and two misdemeanor counts of solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence while in custody of the Jackson County Jail, according to court documents.

O'Donnell allegedly told the women she tried to solicit that the murder of Phil Smith had to occur in his home and that the homicide needed to be staged as a suicide, according to the probable cause affidavit.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 28, 2015, file photo, Sen. Linda Collins-Smith speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark.
In this Jan. 28, 2015 file photo, Sen. Linda Collins-Smith speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark.
Danny Johnston/AP, FILE

The women also were told they would be paid with the stash of gold and silver that Smith, a former state judge, had in his home, authorities said.

In addition, investigators have alleged O'Donnell wanted to have her former prosecutor, Henry Boyce, killed, as well as the former judge presiding in her homicide case, Harold Erwin.

O'Donnell's attorney, Lee Short, told ABC News that jail inmates routinely offer questionable information on others in the jail to win privileges or sentence reductions.

"It's not surprising at all -- inmates do it all the time," Short said soon after the new charges were filed. "In high-profile cases, especially homicides, people tend to seek opportunities to improve their situations by giving statements against people."

On Oct. 24, inmate Shana Hembrey told Jackson County Det. Adam Zitzelberger that O'Donnell attempted to hire herself and fellow inmate Cassandra Geoffrion to kill Smith, according to the court documents. Hembrey is currently being held on charges of felony theft and identity fraud, and Geoffrion is being held on charges of possessing drugs and weapons.

Hembrey also told Zitzelberger that O'Donnell wanted Hembrey and Geoffrion to blow up her vehicle in order to destroy any evidence that may be inside.

During a follow-up interview on Nov. 7, Hembrey told Arkansas State Police Special Agent Mike McNeill that O'Donnell also wanted them to kill Smith's new wife, Mary Smith.

Hembrey said she was instructed to "shoot or hang" Smith and was "supposed to pack a bag so it looks like Mary was in the process of leaving him," according to O'Donnell's charging documents.

PHOTO:In this Monday, June 17, 2019, photo, Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell, left, leads Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell to a hearing in Randolph County Circuit Court in Pocahontas, Ark.
In this Monday, June 17, 2019, photo, Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell, left, leads Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell to a hearing in Randolph County Circuit Court in Pocahontas, Ark.
John Lee McLaughlin/The Jonesboro Sun via AP

Surveillance footage from inside the jail on Nov. 5 showed O'Donnell passing two pieces of paper into Geoffrion's cell. Geoffrion alleges the paper, since turned over to authorities, contained forged suicide notes for Philip Smith.

Former inmate Rebecca Landrum, who was held on one count of felony theft, also told law enforcement that O'Donnell approached her multiple times while she was in jail, telling Landrum she wanted her to kill the original judge overseeing O'Donnell's capital murder trial, Erwin, and the first prosecutor, Boyce. Both Boyce and Erwin have since withdrawn from the case because of conflicts.

Landrum alleged O'Donnell told her that she had been set up by Phil Smith for Linda Collins' murder, and that "police had planted stuff in her trunk." Landrum claimed O'Donnell told her to "make evidence disappear" by blowing up her 2005 Honda Civic in Randolph County.

Landrum told investigators that gold and silver inside Smith's home that would serve as payment had been appraised by Collins-Smith to be worth anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 during the couple's divorce.

The informants cooperating against O'Donnell all were prosecuted by Boyce in cases handled by Judge Erwin during November and December.

The case has been strange from the start, with officials refusing to reveal even the most elementary information connected to it and slapping an unprecedented gag order and seal on the vast majority of records associated with the probe. ABC News is suing to have the seal and gag lifted or modified.

O'Donnell is facing the death penalty if convicted of killing Collins-Smith. She is being held without bond on the original charges.

An arraignment on the new charges has not been scheduled.

Tim Loggains, O'Donnell's fiance, said in a statement on Tuesday: "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."

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