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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Republican Party officials reported the death of a former state lawmaker the same day that unidentified human remains were found outside her home, and authorities said Wednesday that they're investigating the case as a homicide.
The remains were found Tuesday outside the home in Pocahontas, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock, Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said. He declined to identify the victim and said the state medical examiner may confirm the identity of the remains later Wednesday. Prosecutor Henry Boyce said the body was a woman's, but said its condition prevented any immediate positive identification.
Property records show the home belonged to former state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, 57, and her ex-husband, retired Circuit Judge Philip Smith. The state GOP tweeted Tuesday night that Collins-Smith had died, but provided no details.
The state crime lab was determining the cause and manner of death, police said. A Randolph County judge granted Boyce's request for an order sealing the documents and statements obtained by police during the investigation.
Collins-Smith, previously very active on social media, last posted to her Twitter account on May 27.
Smith and Collins-Smith divorced in October last year and were in the midst of a court fight over the division of their properties, including a motel, following the breakup.
She served one term in the state House and was originally elected as a Democrat in 2010. But she switched parties and became a Republican in 2011, the year before the GOP won control of both chambers of the Legislature.
"I have not changed. I have not left the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me," she said at a news conference announcing the party switch. Before running for the House, she had served on the state Ethics Commission.
She was elected to the state Senate in 2014 and was one of the most conservative lawmakers in the majority-GOP chamber. She clashed frequently with GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson over the state's Medicaid expansion and other issues, including a bathroom bill she proposed in 2017.
Collins-Smith dropped her proposal , which would have prohibited individuals from using bathrooms in government buildings that do not match their gender at birth, after it failed to advance past a Senate committee. Collins-Smith was defeated in her bid for re-election in the 2018 Republican primary.
Ken Yang, who worked on Collins-Smith's 2014 Senate campaign and was her communications director, remembered her as hardworking and undeterred.
"There was really no stopping her," he said.
The former lawmaker was praised by the state's top GOP officials on Wednesday.
"She was a good person who served in the public arena with passion and conviction," Hutchinson said in a statement issued by his office. "The First Lady and I extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this difficult time."
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