Ten days later, police arrested Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, one of Collins-Smith’s closest friends, who had worked on Collins-Smith’s reelection campaign, and charged her with capital murder. Police released only a single detail tying her to the crime: O’Donnell was captured on video removing Collins-Smith’s home surveillance cameras on May 28, 2019 — the last day Collins-Smith was seen alive, according to an affidavit.
Now, the case has taken another strange turn.
On Tuesday, authorities in Jackson County, Ark., charged O’Donnell, 49, with solicitation to commit murder and to tamper with evidence, accusing of her of asking several inmates to kill Collins-Smith’s ex-husband and his new wife. She allegedly promised the prisoners a stash of gold and silver for their efforts.
The new charges rest on the testimony of jailhouse witnesses, describing O’Donnell’s alleged attempts to hire her cellmates to destroy evidence against her in the murder case and to stage a murder-suicide at the home of the lawmaker’s ex-husband, Phil Smith, a former state judge.
According to the police affidavit, O’Donnell allegedly promised the inmates that they would find thousands of dollars’ worth of gold and silver hidden in Phil Smith’s home once Smith and his wife, Mary, were killed.
She also allegedly asked two inmates to kill a judge and prosecutor connected to her murder case.
Lee Short, O’Donnell’s defense attorney, could not immediately be reached to comment. But in a statement to ABC News, Short cast doubt on the inmates’ credibility, noting that they are sometimes offered rewards in the form of reduced punishment in exchange for cooperating in investigations. Three of four inmates who came forward as informants are awaiting trial in an alleged scheme to steal a man’s Social Security debit card information.
“It’s not surprising at all — inmates do it all the time,” Short told ABC News. “In high-profile cases, especially homicides, people tend to seek opportunities to improve their situations by giving statements against people.”
According to the affidavit, investigators were able to corroborate some aspects of the inmates’ story through video evidence. Public records of the divorce of Collins-Smith and Phil Smith reviewed by The Washington Post show that they were fighting about $28,000 in gold and silver coins stashed away in an unknown location.
Collins-Smith, a local business owner in Pocahontas, a town of about 7,000 in northeast Arkansas, was elected to the state House as a Democrat in 2011. She switched parties about eight months later. Elected to the state Senate as a Republican in 2014, she was outspoken on issues including gun rights and transgender bathroom use. She and Smith had owned the Rock & Roll Motel together before divorcing in 2018.
O’Donnell, in addition to working on Collins-Smith’s campaign, had served as a witness in the couple’s acrimonious divorce, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“We are sickened and upset that someone so close to Linda would be involved in such a terrible, heartless crime,” Collins-Smith’s family said in a statement following O’Donnell’s arrest in June, THV 11 reported.
According to the affidavit released Tuesday, several inmates told detectives that O’Donnell came to them for help. First, she allegedly wanted them to travel either to the Randolph County jail or the crime lab to find O’Donnell’s 2005 Honda Civic, which had been seized as evidence — and then to “blow it up to destroy any evidence that may be in the vehicle,” investigators wrote.
Next, the inmates claimed that O’Donnell wanted one of them to kill Phil Smith and his new wife, Mary. Rebecca Landrum, one of the prisoners, claimed that O’Donnell tried to solicit her to kill Smith because he “set her up.” They claimed that O’Donnell wanted Smith’s death to “look like a suicide,” and that they were instructed to either hang or shoot him. Another prisoner, Shana Hembrey, said she was told to “pack a bag so it looks like Mary was in the process of leaving Mr. Smith.”
A third inmate, Cassandra Geoffrion, claimed that O’Donnell even slipped her a forged suicide note under a jail cell door purporting to be from Smith. According to the affidavit, jail surveillance video shows that O’Donnell slipped two pieces of paper to Geoffrion beneath a locked door.
The three inmates claimed that if they followed through, O’Donnell promised them gold and silver stashed away at Smith’s home for payment for the killings. “Ms. O’Donnell told Ms. Landrum that the last time Linda had the gold and silver appraised it was worth between $20,000 and $30,000,” investigators wrote.
Divorce records show that Smith and Collins-Smith fought during the proceedings about the whereabouts of their gold and silver coins. Smith said that he had found $4,000 worth of the gold and silver. Yet both he and Collins-Smith told the court they had no idea where the other $24,000 worth of coins had gone. A judge ordered them to find the coins, but a September court settlement between Smith and Collins-Smith’s estate notes that they were never located. Collins-Smith’s estate was ordered to pay Smith $10,000 as “replacement value" for the missing "gold and silver bullion.”
The inmates say they refused to carry out the plan. Landrum and another inmate claim that O’Donnell also wanted Circuit Judge Harold Erwin and prosecutor Henry Boyce dead, although neither provided a reason. A slew of judges and Boyce have recused themselves from the case. Some had worked with Smith in court. All of the informants had been prosecuted by Boyce in cases that Erwin oversaw in November and December, records show.
In a statement Tuesday, O’Donnell’s fiance said he was confident in her innocence, ABC News reported.
“My family’s faith in Becky is unwavering,” he said in the statement. “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.”
O’Donnell has yet to be arraigned in the solicitation case.
If she is convicted of killing Collins-Smith, she will face the death penalty.