Inmate pleads insanity in guard’s death, facing death penalty

Hunter Trammell appears in court flanked by Arkansas State Police. December, 2016
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An Arkansas prison inmate accused of beating a guard to death at the Miller County jail last year entered an insanity plea to capital murder at a hearing Tuesday morning.

Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 27, allegedly beat Correctional Officer Lisa Mauldin, 47, to death by punching her repeatedly in the head and face Dec. 18 in the kitchen of the Miller County jail. After beating Mauldin, Hunter allegedly attacked Correctional Officer Damaris Allen, 35, causing serious injuries.

Hunter appeared before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson with Little Rock lawyer Ronald Davis for arraignment Tuesday in the Miller County jail courtroom. Davis entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and asked Johnson to order a mental evaluation of Hunter. Davis also entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of battery of a law enforcement officer.

Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black and Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Black, who are not related, said the state does intend to seek a death sentence for Hunter in Mauldin’s murder. Davis said he intends to file the “standard battery” of “constitutional challenges” to the death penalty. Johnson said he will wait for the results of Hunter’s mental exam before hearing any arguments on pretrial motions in the case.

Hunter was serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated robbery and two counts of felony domestic battery at the time of the attacks in the Miller County jail. Hunter was sentenced in Pulaski County in 2011. He was being housed in Miller County in the Act 309 program which is meant to relieve prison overcrowding and provide county jails with cheap labor. Act 309 inmates usually enjoy a greater amount of freedom to move about the jail and community where they are assigned.

If found guilty of capital murder, Hunter faces death or life without parole. If found guilty of battery of a law enforcement officer, he faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison. Hunter is currently being held at the Varner Supermax Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. He was brought to Miller County for arraignment Tuesday and returned to Varner afterward.

Johnson scheduled Hunter to return to court for a status hearing April 11 but said that date will be delayed if the results of the mental evaluation are still outstanding at that time.

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