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story.lead_photo.caption Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell is escorted out of the Randolph County Courthouse on July 30 after she was arraigned in former state Sen. Linda Collins’ slaying. ( John Moritz)

Robert Dittrich, a longtime prosecutor from Stuttgart, this week became the latest official to be assigned to the case against a woman accused of killing former state Sen. Linda Collins of Pocahontas.

Dittrich will take over as lead prosecutor of the case. He was assigned Tuesday, according to an order from Randolph County Circuit Court.

The case's previous prosecutor, Henry Boyce, unexpectedly asked to recuse last month, the latest in a succession of recusals from the high-profile case involving the murder of Collins, a prominent Republican lawmaker in the area.

The judge who signed Dittrich's assignment order, Judge John Fogleman of Marion in Crittenden County, was himself assigned to the case last month to fill a vacancy.

Collins was found stabbed to death at her home in Pocahontas in June. Less than two weeks later, police arrested Collins' former campaign aide, Rebecca O'Donnell, and charged her with capital murder.

In July, O'Donnell pleaded innocent to the charges against her.

Boyce, the previous prosecutor, had declined to unveil a suspected motive for the murder, but released an affidavit saying that O'Donnell was filmed removing security cameras from Collins' home on the last day the senator was seen alive. Boyce had said he would seek the death penalty at a trial scheduled for October 2020.

It will now be up to Dittrich to decide whether to pursue the death penalty. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

The unusually high turnover of officials in the case recently prompted Collins' family to issue a statement of confidence in the case against O'Donnell.

"We want to stress that the case brought by the State against the woman accused is strong, regardless of those who have recused from the case," the statement from the family said.

Dittrich served more than 30 years as the elected prosecutor in Arkansas County before retiring from that post last year. He now serves as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Jefferson County.

Others assigned to the case have included retired Circuit Judge David Goodson of Paragould, who was assigned after every judge on the 3rd Judicial Circuit -- which includes Randolph County -- recused from the case. Collins' ex-husband, Philip Smith, had served as a judge on the 3rd Judicial Circuit.

Two different judges on the circuit had heard preliminary matters after O'Donnell's arrest before Goodson was assigned.

While serving in the Legislature, Collins was known by the surname Collins-Smith. She served in the House from 2011-13 and in the Senate from 2015 to January this year. A conservative Republican, Collins was known for her vigorous opposition to gun control measures. According to court records, she was found with multiple stab wounds.

Metro on 12/21/2019

Print Headline: Collins case has new prosecutor

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