"I went to Linda's house, and I intentionally killed her and then hid the body," Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell told a court in Arkansas Wednesday, pleading guilty to the 2019 murder of former state Sen. Linda Collins, KATV reports. O'Donnell, a former campaign aide who associates said was a "good friend" of the senator, was sentenced to 54 years in prison under a plea deal; ABC News calls it a "bombshell plea" and a "surprise twist" in the case, as O'Donnell had originally pleaded not guilty. She had been charged with murder, abuse of a corpse, and attempting to hire two fellow inmates to kill Collins' ex-husband and make it look like a suicide. Collins' body was found by her son outside her home in June last year under a tarp in her driveway, so badly damaged that authorities initially could not identify her.
Though the "why" of the murder remains unclear, Collins' son, Butch Smith, told the court that he believes O'Donnell, 49, had been stealing money from his mother and "snapped" and stabbed her when she was confronted about it. After O'Donnell was arrested on her way to the memorial service last year, her fiance, Tim Loggains, said the women had been "like sisters" and there was "not a chance" she was guilty. On Thursday, he released a statement describing Collins as a "dear friend." "To accept that I lived with someone so deviant, someone who could not only take a life but the life of someone who helped her in so many ways, without any indication of the darkness in her heart, was heartbreaking," he said. (Read more Arkansas stories.)