Capital murder defendant headed to Arkansas State Hospital

Hunter Trammell appears in court flanked by Arkansas State Police. December, 2016 (photo by Field Walsh | TXK TODAY)

An Arkansas Department of Correction inmate accused of beating a female correctional officer to death in the kitchen of the Miller County jail in 2016 will soon begin receiving mental health treatment in the Arkansas State Hospital.

Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 28, was on loan from the Arkansas Department of Correction as part of the Act 309 program when he allegedly attacked Lisa Mauldin in the jail’s kitchen Dec. 18, 2016. Hunter allegedly assaulted Officer Damaris Allen moments after the attack on Mauldin and is facing charges of capital murder and battery of a peace officer.

Since then, Hunter has been found incompetent to stand trial by mental health experts. Hunter’s dual status as a murder defendant and an already-convicted inmate serving time for battery and aggravated robbery led Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson to order in February that Hunter receive treatment for his mental illness while in prison at the Varner Unit.

An Oct. 10 letter from an Arkansas State Hospital psychiatrist indicates that Hunter has not been receiving the treatment and medication which might restore his competency.

“It appears that Mr. Hunter’s period of isolation, in the absence of psychiatric treatment, has resulted in a worsening of symptoms,” the letter states. “His thought process is substantially impaired by a delusional belief system, which is becoming more prominent in the absence of treatment.”

Hunter was not in court Tuesday for a hearing to address his case. His lawyer, Ron Davis Jr. of Little Rock, objected to conducting the hearing without Hunter.

Davis and Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Potter Barrett told Johnson that they have been told that prison medical staff believe Hunter is malingering, or faking his mental illness.

According to the Oct. 10 letter from the state hospital psychiatrist, experts at the state hospital believe Hunter is suffering from psychotic symptoms related to mental illness.

“In my opinion, he requires a period of inpatient observation and medication management to clarify his diagnosis and to attempt to alleviate the delusional beliefs that are impeding his ability to think about his case in a reality-based manner and to communicate information effectively,” the letter states. “Moreover, the possibility of malingering can be more confidently ruled out after a period of observation; although a total of five evaluators have agreed that Mr. Hunter does not appear to be feigning symptoms of mental illness.”

Johnson signed an order Tuesday for Hunter’s transfer to the Arkansas State Hospital for treatment and scheduled the case for a status hearing Dec. 11.

If convicted of capital murder, Hunter faces the possibility of a death sentence or life without parole. Battery of a peace officer is punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison. Hunter has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

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