Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Former Rams RB Phillips Found Dead in Prison

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Former Rams RB Phillips Found Dead in Prison

Article excerpt

One of the more talented and troubled players in St. Louis Rams football history, running back Lawrence Phillips, was found dead early Wednesday at Kern Valley State Prison in California.

Guards found Phillips, 40, unresponsive in his prison cell shortly after midnight on Wednesday. He was taken to an outside hospital and pronounced dead about 1:30 a.m. Officials said they suspect suicide.

He had been housed alone in a segregation cell since August 2015 after he was suspected of killing his cellmate, 37-year-old Damion Soward, on April 11. According to a coroner's report, Soward died as a result of strangulation in the cell the two men shared.

On Tuesday, Judge Michael Dellostritto ordered Phillips to face trial on a charge of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of lying in wait, Kern County court records show. The special circumstances could have led to the death penalty had he been convicted, but prosecutors said no decision on that had been determined.

Soward was the cousin of former USC and NFL wide receiver R. Jay Soward.

Phillips was sent to prison in 2008 to serve a sentence of more than 31 years after he was convicted of twice choking his girlfriend in 2004 in San Diego and of driving his car into three teenagers later that year after a pickup football game in Los Angeles.

He was sentenced for inflicting great bodily injury involving domestic violence, corporal injury to a spouse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft.

Phillips was born in Arkansas but grew up in foster homes in California. At the University of Nebraska, the gifted Phillips rushed for 508 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games as a freshman in 1993 and became the focal point of the Cornhuskers' attack the next year when he rushed for 100-plus yards in 11 straight games and finished with 1,722 rushing yards and 16 scores. In a 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl, Phillips rushed for a game-high 96 yards, helping undefeated Nebraska finish as national champions.

Shortly after the Orange Bowl victory, Phillips pleaded guilty to assault and vandalism charges from an incident in March 1994.

Considered a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy in 1995, Phillips ran for 206 yards and four TDs on just 22 carries against Michigan State in an early-season game. Hours later, he was arrested for assault after beating ex-girlfriend Kate McEwen and dragging her by her hair down a flight of stairs.

Phillips pleaded no contest to third-degree misdemeanor assault and trespassing and was sentenced to a year of probation. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne arranged for Phillips to undergo in-patient therapy for anger management at a Kansas clinic and suspended him for six games, a punishment many national observers deemed too lenient.

Osborne defended his decision to reinstate Phillips, saying medical personnel agreed that Phillips needed the structure of football in his life. …

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