Without explanation, the prosecutor exited the case against Rebecca O’Donnell.
What was strange has gotten stranger in a high-profile murder case in northeastern Arkansas.
Without warning or explanation, the attorney prosecuting the death-penalty case of the woman accused of killing former state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith dropped out of the proceedings altogether this week.
The unexpected move comes a week after the judge in the case asked the state Supreme Court to replace him. Two weeks ago, the accused, Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, was placed under strict jail segregation without legal justification.
And for months, the court has imposed a set of restrictions that have made it impossible for the public to understand what investigators have found and why O’Donnell was charged in the first place.
“Henry Boyce has moved to be relieved as Prosecuting Attorney,” according to a three-sentence order signed Wednesday by the new judge, John Fogleman. “The Motion for Withdrawal is hereby granted.”
Boyce’s assistant said the prosecutor had no comment. Court officials said Boyce’s request to the judge was verbal, so no written record is available.
Lee Short, an attorney for O’Donnell, told ABC News, “The rules of professional conduct dictate when he must recuse. I trust that Mr. Boyce was following those guidelines when he made his decision. The change in prosecuting attorney is not going to alter the defense.”
Collins-Smith, 57, a well-to-do businesswoman, was found dead at her Pocahontas, Arkansas, home on June 4. O’Donnell, 49, was her friend and employee and is now charged with capital murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.
Collins-Smith’s son called police on the afternoon of June 4 to report that he and his grandfather were searching for his mother at her home because they hadn’t heard from her. She was last seen alive on May 28. Smith told detectives he found a body wrapped in a blanket under a tarp in the driveway; it was later determined to be the former state senator.
O’Donnell has pleaded not guilty and her family has repeatedly protested that she would never kill Collins-Smith.
O’Donnell has been locked up in the Jackson County jail since she was arrested. Even though she has been a model prisoner, officials said, she was placed under the strictest detention protocols after the state police contacted the jailers.
A day after ABC News reported on the strange jailhouse restrictions, Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas said he lifted them.
O’Donnell’s fiancé, Tim Loggains, said, “Becky is still being isolated and has no contact visitation with family. We, the family, still maintain Becky’s innocence and cannot fathom the confusion and seeming incompetence in the handling of this case. Please pray for Becky.”
With all of the personnel changes, it is unclear how O’Donnell’s case will proceed. Prior to the moves of the last two weeks, O’Donnell’s next court appearance had been scheduled for Feb. 28, 2020, and the trial was tentatively set for next October.