An Arkansas prison inmate accused of killing a female correctional officer while assigned to the Miller County jail has been found unfit to proceed to trial by mental health experts.
Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 27, appeared Tuesday with Little Rock lawyer Ron Davis at a hearing before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson.
Hunter is charged with capital murder in the Dec. 18 death of Correctional Officer Lisa Mauldin, who died after allegedly being attacked by Hunter in the kitchen of the Miller County jail. Hunter is also charged with battery of a peace officer for allegedly causing serious injury to Correctional Officer Damaris Allen shortly after inflicting the injuries to Mauldin which ended her life. The state is seeking the death penalty.
Johnson ordered a mental evaluation of Hunter earlier this year after Davis entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black told the court that the psychologist who performed the evaluation of Hunter has moved to California since completing a fellowship at Arkansas State Hospital.
That doctor found that Hunter is not currently capable of assisting his lawyer with his defense but expressed the opinion that further evaluation is needed to determine if Hunter is competent, Black said. Davis said that defendants found unable to assist their lawyers, and thus not fit to proceed, are typically ordered to a facility such as a state hospital for 10 months in hopes competency can be restored through drug and other therapy.
However, Davis pointed out that while Arkansas law provides a mechanism for incompetent defendants to be treated with hopes of restoring competency, Hunter's case is different because he is already an inmate in the Arkansas Department of Correction. At the time of the attacks on Mauldin and Allen, Hunter was assigned to the Miller County jail as part of ADC's 309 program which allows certain offenders to serve their sentences in county jails in need of cheap labor.
Davis suggested that the proceedings in Miller County be suspended until Hunter finishes serving a 15-year term for aggravated robbery and two counts of felony domestic battery assessed him Feb. 22, 2011, as part of a plea bargain in Pulaski County. Black said she believes Hunter should be returned to the state hospital for continued evaluation.
"He can be admitted for evaluation but not for restoration," Black said.
Black called Dr. Benjamin Silver, a staff psychologist at Arkansas State Hospital, to testify about Hunter's evaluation. Silver said some information, including a psychological evaluation performed on Hunter in the past, was not available when the most recent inquiry into Hunter's competency was made. Black provided Silver with some of the missing documents at Tuesday's hearing.
Silver mentioned that Hunter appears to fall somewhere on the "schizophrenia spectrum" but that diagnosing individuals with certain disorders can require lengthy observation.
At the end of the hearing, Johnson ordered that Hunter will return to the state hospital for further evaluation. Until a determination is made concerning Hunter's competency, the case against him in Miller County cannot move forward.
If found guilty of capital murder Hunter faces death or life without the possibility of parole. If found guilty of first degree battery of a peace officer, Hunter faces 10 to 40 years or life.