An Arkansas prison inmate accused of beating one female correctional officer to death and seriously injuring another in the Miller County jail kitchen last year was in court Tuesday to address his competency.
Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 27, is charged with capital murder in the Dec. 18 death of Correctional Officer Lisa Mauldin. Hunter allegedly attacked Mauldin, 47, in the jail’s kitchen after a brief verbal exchange, beating her in the face with his fists. Hunter allegedly attacked Correctional Officer Damaris Allen, 35, in the kitchen when she walked in after the attack on Mauldin.
At a hearing earlier this year, Little Rock lawyer Ron Davis pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect on Hunter’s behalf and asked the court to order a psychological evaluation to determine if Hunter is liable for the alleged conduct and to determine if he is fit to proceed to trial. At a hearing Tuesday before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson, Davis said staff at the Arkansas State Hospital have deemed Hunter unable to assist his lawyer in preparing his defense, which is a required component of legal competency.
Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black argued that Hunter should be sent back to the state hospital for further evaluation because the psychologist’s report indicates that more observation is needed. Black said the psychologist who prepared the report moved to California after completing a fellowship in Arkansas. Black called Arkansas State Hospital psychologist Benjamin Silver to testify Tuesday.
Silver said Hunter may suffer from symptoms of schizophrenia. Black said she provided Silver with documents and a copy of an earlier mental evaluation which the state hospital did not previously have to aid in their evaluation.
Davis argued that the proceedings in Miller County should be put on hold until Hunter has finished serving a 15-year sentence he received in 2011 in Pulaski County for aggravated robbery and two counts of domestic battery. Hunter was assigned to the Miller County jail as part of the Act 309 program which allows Arkansas Department of Correction inmates to serve time in county and city jails where they are needed to work.
Davis said the state hospital will accept prison inmates for mental evaluations but not for the process of attempting to restore them to competency. Black asked that Hunter be returned to the state hospital for further evaluation and Johnson agreed.
The state has announced that it will seek the death penalty for Hunter in Mauldin’s death. The only other punishment for capital murder in Arkansas is life without parole. If found guilty of first-degree battery of a peace officer in the attack on Allen, Hunter faces 10 to 40 years or life.