POCAHONTAS -- Six days before the slain body of former state Sen. Linda Collins was discovered in her driveway in June, video from inside the lawmaker's home recorded her friend and former campaign aide removing security cameras, according to an affidavit released Tuesday by a judge.
The friend, Rebecca O'Donnell, will face the possibility of a death sentence if her capital-murder case goes to trial, prosecutors said Tuesday.
For the first time since O'Donnell's arrest on June 14, officials were cleared by a judge to release some court records that reveal what led police to arrest the 48-year-old suspect less than two weeks after Collins' body was found with multiple stab wounds. Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce also gave public answers to press questions for the first time since filing the case against O'Donnell.
Rebecca O'Donnell affidavitView
At her second appearance at the Randolph County Courthouse, O'Donnell pleaded innocent to one count each of capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence. She continues to be held with no bail at the Jackson County jail, which has facilities for women.
According to the affidavit, Collins was last seen alive May 28. That same day, O'Donnell was filmed inside the former lawmaker's home removing security cameras, the document stated.
Less than a week later, on June 4, Collins' son, Butch Smith, and her father, Benny Collins, went to her home on Arkansas 90 in Pocahontas after not hearing from Collins for several days. In the driveway of the house, they found Collins's body wrapped in a blanket and covered by a tarp.
While the body was in an "advanced state of decomposition," the state Crime Laboratory was able to identify the body and determine that Collins had died as a result of stab wounds. Investigators also determined that Collins' body had been moved from inside the house to the driveway.
Later, on June 14, police obtained the footage from inside Collins' home, according to the affidavit. O'Donnell was arrested that evening while on her way to Collins' visitation service.
The affidavit makes no reference to a possible motive or a murder weapon.
Retired Circuit Judge David Goodson, assigned by Arkansas Chief Justice Dan Kemp to hear the case, ordered a redacted version of the affidavit released to the public Tuesday. Additional details about the video footage were obscured by redactions.
Before Tuesday, an order sealing all records related to the murder investigation had been put in place by another circuit judge who later recused, along with all the other judges on the 3rd Judicial Circuit. Collins' ex-husband, Philip Smith, is a retired judge on that circuit. Goodson once served in the neighboring 2nd Judicial Circuit.
Media outlets, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, had written to Goodson asking that he remove the order to seal in light of unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo about the case that had circulated online. At the start of Tuesday's arraignment, Goodson addressed those concerns, reading at times from what appeared to be prepared remarks.
"This is not a sporting event," Goodson said, cautioning the packed courthouse and the press to respect the proceedings and refrain from emotional outbursts. "This is not a TV show. This is not a stage play. This is not a movie."
Still, Goodson agreed to lift the previous order and allow for the release of the redacted affidavit, criminal information, pleadings and other motions related to the case. Investigative documents that give information beyond what is included in the affidavit will remain under seal, according to Goodson's order.
Prosecutors, the defense team and other law enforcement entities also were ordered by Goodson to refrain from "extrajudicial statements."
O'Donnell's attorneys had requested such a gag on outside statements in one of a series of motions made before Tuesday's arraignment. Other motions by the defense team included requests that prosecutors share any digital records from the investigation, as well as any probation or parole records from the Arkansas Division of Community Correction.
Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Community Correction Division, said records show that O'Donnell was on probation in Randolph County from 2010 to 2013 for a theft case. O'Donnell also was ordered to pay $2,681 in restitution and a $1,000 fine, Tyler said.
Lee Short, one of O'Donnell's attorneys, declined to comment further on his client's case, citing Goodson's gag order.
Both Short, the defense attorney, and Boyce, the lead prosecutor, said they have experience trying death-penalty cases.
While none of the 35 men incarcerated on Arkansas' death row are from the four-county 3rd Judicial Circuit, Boyce said he has tried several capital cases, including one that resulted in a death sentence that was later overturned. There are no women condemned to death in Arkansas.
Short, who was appointed by the Arkansas public defender coordinator's office for the capital case, served as an appellate attorney for Ledell Lee, who in 2017 became the first person executed in Arkansas in more than a decade.
When asked why he was seeking the death penalty against O'Donnell, Boyce replied, "It's an option," and declined to elaborate.
O'Donnell appeared in the courtroom Tuesday wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, with glasses that she needs for reading perched on top of her head.
She stood between Short and her other attorney, Katherine Streett, when asked by Goodson if she understood each of the three charges against her. Each time, she answered a simple, "Yes."
Also in the courtroom Tuesday was O'Donnell's fiance, Tim Loggains, who had defended O'Donnell last month in a nationally televised interview with ABC's Good Morning America, saying "she's not capable of this."
"Either she is the best actress in the world and completely fooled me, or there's not a chance she did this," Loggains said in the ABC interview. He continued to decline to answer questions from other media outlets outside the courtroom Tuesday.
Loggains was in the car with O'Donnell when she was taken into custody. An outspoken activist for gun rights, he had appeared at the state Capitol in Little Rock on several occasions to advocate for legislation along with Collins, who was a conservative Republican. After her divorce from Smith, Collins had granted Loggains her power of attorney. In the ABC interview, he attributed that event to helping out a friend who was in need.
"None of the information being selectively leaked shakes my confidence in Becky," Robin Emis of Heber Springs, Collins' divorce attorney, said in a statement released Tuesday night. "Becky and Tim were Linda's advocates, protectors, and trusted confidants. They both loved Linda and tirelessly gave their time and energy to support her, in every way. This attack on Becky is a re-victimization of Linda. I'm grieved for everyone involved."
Collins' immediate family was escorted into and out of the courtroom Tuesday through a back door. A spokesman later said the family declined to comment on Tuesday's proceedings.
Rebecca O’Donnell is escorted out of a courtroom Tuesday at the Randolph County Courthouse in Pocahontas after she was arraigned in the slaying of former state Sen. Linda Collins.
A Section on 07/31/2019
Print Headline: 1st details released in killing of former Arkansas senator; video said to show suspect at scene