Miller County deputies and jail staff looked on as an Arkansas Department of Correction inmate accused of murdering one female correctional officer and severely injuring another Sunday made his first court appearance on capital murder and battery charges Monday.
"I just want to apologize to everyone for what happened," Tramell Mackenzie Hunter said at the end of his initial appearance before District Judge Wren Autrey. "I just felt like she was messing with my life."
Hunter signed paperwork at the hearing with hands marred with cuts, bandages and stitches. Arkansas State Police troopers and Arkansas Department of Correction staff stood next to and behind Hunter.
Hunter allegedly attacked Lisa Mauldin, 47, in the kitchen area of the Miller County jail about 1 p.m. Sunday. Correctional Officer Damaris Allen, 35, was beaten as well. Allen's injuries are reportedly severe but she is expected to recover, according to officials.
Hunter, 27, was on loan to Miller County from Arkansas Department of Correction as part of the Act 309 program.
The program is described on ADC's website as, "Increases the number of prison beds, reduces cost of incarceration, assists sheriffs with manpower while saving local dollars. Places some inmates closer to their families and heightens public relations with the counties."
Inmates in the 309 program typically enjoy great freedom of movement and are given trusty status in the county jails. Inmates usually serve at least six months in prison before considered eligible for the program.
Hunter pleaded guilty in 2011 to aggravated robbery and domestic battery in Pulaski County as part of a plea agreement, which includes a 15-year sentence, according to ADC website. Hunter completed a mental health program in 2011 and an anger management program in 2015, according to the ADC site. His parole eligibility dates on those convictions are listed as Sept. 1, 2020.
Autrey set Hunter's bail at $1 million on the new charges though the issue is moot in light of his status as an ADC prisoner. Autrey stated at the hearing that Hunter is being immediately transferred to ADC's maximum security Varner Unit.
Autrey scheduled Hunter to return to court for a pretrial hearing Jan. 10 before a Circuit Judge in Miller County. If convicted of first-degree battery, Hunter faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison. Capital murder is punishable by life without the possibility of parole or death. Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black said her office will determine whether to seek the death penalty for Hunter as the investigation continues.
Continue to check with the Texarkana Gazette website for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's print and online editions for full coverage.