The mother of a murder victim has fired off a pointed open letter calling for the dismissal of longtime Angola warden Burl Cain after a recent Advocate story revealed Cain had business ties to the stepfather of her son’s killer, who has received plum assignments as an inmate and is awaiting a clemency hearing.
Cain’s dealings appear to violate a rule forbidding personal interactions between Department of Public Safety & Corrections personnel and inmates or their families.
Beginning in 2006 and into 2007, Cain spent more than $2 million buying up land in West Feliciana Parish, just ahead of a profound national recession. In 2009, a company headed by Charles Chatelain, the stepfather of double murderer Jason Lormand, invested in Cain’s venture, and his company assumed some of Cain’s debt.
Chatelain’s buy-in came two years after his stepson was transferred to a post at the Governor’s Mansion, an enviable position among inmates. Chatelain and Cain had come to know one another years earlier when Chatelain was appointed to the volunteer board overseeing Prison Enterprises, a money-making arm of the corrections department that runs mostly on inmate labor and thus works closely with Louisiana’s prison wardens.
Cain declined to answer questions posed by The Advocate addressing the deal, but corrections officials said they will review the matter. Chatelain, through his attorney, said there was nothing improper about his dealings with Cain. He also said both his company and the warden wound up profiting, if modestly.
But Alida Anthony — whose son, Justin Fitzgerald, was shot in the head and killed by Lormand in 1997 — says the entire episode reeks of cronyism. Fitzgerald’s girlfriend, Heidi Studler, was murdered in the same incident.
“My faith in the Louisiana legal system is broken,” Anthony wrote.
She also requested an apology from former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who appointed Chatelain to the Prison Enterprises board. Blanco was in the final months of her tenure when Lormand was assigned to the Governor’s Mansion, and she has said she played no role in his placement there. Blanco left office well before the real-estate transaction occurred.
Chatelain donated both to Blanco’s and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaigns.
Anthony said in an interview that Blanco should have turned Lormand away when he arrived at the Governor’s Mansion because she should have seen that “someone bought his way through the system.”
“My husband and I lost our son 18 years ago. My daughter lost her brother; my son-in-law and our two grandchildren never got to meet their brother-in-law and uncle. My family has suffered. Heidi’s family has suffered. Yet, the system turns a blind eye when money hits the table. Should I teach my grandchildren that when they get in trouble they should whip out a wad of $20s or $100s to make it all go away?” Anthony wrote.
After receiving Anthony’s letter, Blanco penned a response, empathizing with Anthony’s pain and noting that she, too, lost a child unexpectedly. The former governor reiterated that she played no role in Lormand’s treatment, or that of any other inmate, saying she “left those decisions to corrections officials and the Louisiana State Police who vetted each individual.”
“I am aware that crime creates pain for all touched by it, so once again, please accept my apologies for having offended you and your loved ones,” Blanco wrote.
In a brief statement, the DPS&C said through a spokeswoman that “we do not doubt (Anthony’s) sincere grief over the senseless death of her son.”
Spokeswoman Pam Laborde also reiterated that employees “are expected to conduct themselves in a professional and ethical manner” and are reviewing whether Cain violated any rules. She wrote that it was unclear how long the review would take but that she “will advise when the review is complete.”
In addition to Cain and Blanco, Anthony also had strong words for Lormand, whom she twice calls a “coward.”
“You don’t deserve special treatment, no matter how much money your stepdaddy throws at the foot of the Governor and the other corrupted politicians,” she wrote.
Cain’s real-estate dealings drew the attention of federal investigators. Though their probe resulted in no charges, Lormand was abruptly transferred from the Governor’s Mansion to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in 2011. Lormand’s mother, Jessica Landry Chatelain, has said she suspected the federal investigation was responsible for the abrupt transfer.
In her letter, Anthony says she intervened in the matter after finding out Lormand was at the Governor’s Mansion.
“That only happened because I personally visited with several people within the Department of Public Safety and Corrections,” Anthony wrote.
Anthony’s letter is also critical of 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes, who prosecuted Lormand back when he was an assistant district attorney.
Anthony claims two jurors went to high school with Lormand and believes it was inappropriate that they were allowed to serve on the jury. Those jurors were the reason Lormand did not receive the death penalty, she wrote.
Nonsense, according to Stutes.“There was no plan to plant a time bomb in the jury. Why would I do that?” Stutes asked in an interview.
“I was as interested in getting to a verdict of the death penalty as she was.”
Stutes said if he is asked to weigh in on Lormand’s clemency, he will “vehemently oppose” the murderer be released.