An Arkansas Department of Correction inmate accused of killing a female correctional officer in the kitchen of the Miller County jail more than two years ago appeared in court Tuesday for the first time since being found competent by officials at the state’s mental hospital.
Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 29, allegedly beat Lisa Mauldin, 47, to death Dec. 18, 2016, following a brief verbal altercation. Moments after beating Mauldin, Hunter allegedly attacked Officer Damaris Allen. Hunter is facing the death penalty in the attack on Mauldin and a battery charge for the assault on Allen.
In the months following the death, Hunter was evaluated by staff at the Arkansas State Hospital who found mental illness made him unfit to proceed to trial. Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Barrett said she received a call from officials at the state hospital in the last week of June notifying her that Hunter has been found competent to proceed to trial and responsible in his mental state at the time of the alleged criminal conduct and that she was told a full report on the hospital’s findings would come in the next five weeks.
Hospital officials transferred Hunter out of the state hospital and back to Arkansas prison custody last week. Hunter’s attorney, Ron Davis of Little Rock, said he doesn’t believe the hospital had authority to transfer Hunter without permission from the court.
At a hearing Tuesday afternoon before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson in a courtroom at the Miller County jail, Davis argued that such a transfer should not have occurred without a hearing and that he prefers Hunter be returned to the hospital. Davis said he has already noticed a deterioration in Hunter since the transfer.
Davis asked Johnson to enter a finding that Hunter, who has been in custody since 2011, is indigent, so that he can ask the Arkansas Public Defender Commission to provide funds for an independent mental evaluation of Hunter once the full report from the state hospital is received. Johnson agreed and entered a finding of indigency.
Davis requested an order from Johnson for Hunter’s return to the state hospital. Johnson said he would make a decision on that request once the full report on Hunter’s most recent evaluation is received from the state hospital.
Johnson scheduled the case for a hearing next month.