James Gill: Warden Burl Cain playing by a different set of rules _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Warden Burl Cain ORG XMIT: BAT1411251554468918

You can’t run a prison unless you are a stickler for the rules, and Burl Cain hasn’t survived 20 years as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola by being an old softie.

Keep your nose clean and accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior or Cain can make your life even more of a misery, former inmates relate.

It also helps to have connections because, although prison administrators are forbidden to fraternize with inmates’ families or friends, Cain is a whole lot better at enforcing rules than obeying them.

While ruling the Farm with an iron fist, Cain has been busy on the outside in real estate speculation, investing heavily just before the bottom fell out of the market a few years ago. Fortunately, he found a couple of investors, and each of them, as luck would have it, had a protégé among the murderers doing life under Cain’s supervision.

It seems plain enough that Cain’s dealings amounted to verboten “non-professional relationships with offenders or with offenders’ families or friends,” and, if further review confirms as much, “appropriate action” will be taken, Corrections Department spokeswoman Pam Laborde said.

But the evidence suggests Cain did much more than break department regulations. His efforts on behalf of an inmate named Lenny Nicholas seemed to state prosecutors much like an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

Cain’s friend, property developer and horse enthusiast William Ourso, was a regular visitor to Angola, where Nicholas helped run the stables. Such was their affinity that Ourso hired lawyers and an investigator to seek a new trial for Nicholas, who had been convicted of killing a New Orleans bar owner.

Ourso also enlisted the aid of Cain, who proved most obliging. Two weeks earlier, Ourso had paid Cain $700,000 for a chunk of the land where he had dreamed of building a subdivision in West Feliciana Parish.

Cain took himself and a video camera to Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, where another inmate, Nicholas’ associate Mike Myers, lay dying. Cain recorded Myers’ confession that it was he who did the murder of which Nicholas had been found guilty.

The tape was in Ourso’s hands lickety split and then forwarded to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, where it did not cut much ice on account of Myers admitted strangling the victim, whereas the coroner ruled blunt head injury was the cause of death. Myers also failed to name the man he claimed to have killed.

Prosecutors dismissed the tape as “a fraud perpetrated on the court.” Ourso later assumed $1 million of debts from the stalled development, while another moneybags, Charles Chatelain, also invested.

Chatelain became pals with Cain after he was appointed in 2004 to the board of Prison Enterprises, which markets the fruits of inmate labor. Among the inmates is Chatelain’s stepson, Jason Lormand, who murdered a young couple in Lafayette in the belief that they were tipping off the police drug squad.

Soon after Chatelain joined the board, Lormand was made a trusty and, the next year, got a plum assignment as cook at Angola’s Ranch House, where Cain entertains visitors. Two years later, Lormand landed every prisoner’s dream job when he joined the staff at the Governor’s Mansion.

Laborde said it is up to State Police, not prison administrators, to decide which trusties work at the mansion, but you’d have to be pretty dumb to think a convict could be put to work at the governor’s shoulder without the OK from Cain.

Two years after Lormand was transferred to the mansion, Chatelain invested in Cain’s project.

Cain has been lord of all he surveys for so long now that he has evidently forgotten he ever had to obey rules too. Throw in the myth that he was single-handedly responsible for turning America’s bloodiest prison into a penal beau ideal and he was bound to grow too big for his boots.