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Louisiana prisoner built Ruth's and Billy Graham's coffins shortly before he died

Sunday, June 17, 2007 | 6:57 p.m. CDT; updated 3:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008
A member of the North Carolina Honor Guard stands beside the casket of Ruth Graham before a memorial service for the wife of evangelist Billy Graham in Montreat, N.C., Saturday, June 16, 2007. The casket was made by a convicted murderer at Angola prison and cost $215.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Shortly before he died, convicted murderer Richard Liggett was asked to make two of the simple plywood coffins he meticulously crafted for fellow prisoners. Except the caskets would be for Billy and Ruth Graham.

"Humbled? He was honored, he was honored," said Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. "He told me, of everything that ever happened in his life, the most profound thing was to build this coffin for Billy Graham and his family."

Graham's son Franklin made the request after seeing the coffins on a visit to the Angola prison and being struck by their simplicity, according to a statement from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Ruth Graham was to be buried in one Sunday at a private ceremony at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. She died Thursday at age 87 after a lengthy illness.

"I wish you could look in that casket because she's so beautiful," Billy Graham told mourners who gathered Saturday to remember his beloved wife. "She was a wonderful woman."

The coffins are made of birch plywood and lined with a foam mattress pad covered with fabric. Brass handles are on the sides, while a cross adorns the top. The price: $215 each.

Liggett, who was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder, led a team of prisoners who built the coffins for the Graham family. He had found God in prison, Cain said.

"You would never think he'd be a prisoner. He wasn't all marked up," Cain said. "He just did a terrible thing, one time in New Orleans."

The prison has a Bible college and chapel near death row funded largely by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.

Cain said many of its 5,108 prisoners are Christian and were spending the weekend "preaching and praying and remembering the Graham family."

But Liggett won't be among them: He died of cancer in March, nearly 31 years into his sentence. He was buried in one of the last coffins he built, Cain said.

— Associated Press writer Mike Baker in Montreat, N.C., contributed to this report.


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