Jailed former Nebraska and NFL running back Lawrence Phillips is now accused of murdering his cellmate in a California prison.
The one-time college superstar was generally believed to have hit rock bottom when he was imprisoned for 31 years in 2009 for choking his girlfriend and, in a separate incident, driving his car at a group of three teenagers after getting into an argument with them while playing a game of pick-up football.
But the California prison service confirmed in a statement released on Monday that Phillips is now a suspect in the homicide of his cellmate, 37-year-old convicted murderer Damion Soward.
Soward, from San Bernardino, California, was found unresponsive in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison at 12.46 am on Saturday and died the following evening at Delano Regional Medical Center, according to the prison service media statement.
Here’s what you need to know about the investigation into the disgraced former football star murder suspect:
1. His Cellmate Was Found ‘Unresponsive’ on Saturday
No details have yet been revealed about a motive for the killing or for the cause of death.
Phillips, 39, has been moved to the prison’s segregation unit while an investigation is carried out.
2. He Has a History of Violence
While still at the University of Nebraska, he was suspended for dragging an ex-girlfriend by her hair down a flight of stairs, reported the LA Times, and he has been linked to a series of domestic violence incidents over the years.
On August 21, 2005, he was arrested for assault after allegedly driving a car into three teenagers,following a dispute with the teens during a pick-up football game in LA.
At the time of the arrest, Phillips was also wanted by San Diego police in connection with two alleged attacks involving a former girlfriend, who claimed he had choked her to the point of unconsciousness.
In addition, the LAPD was seeking Phillips in connection with another allegation of domestic abuse in Los Angeles.
In March, 2006, Phillips was ordered to stand trial on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon (his car), stemming from the August 21, 2005, incident. On October 10, 2006, he was found guilty of seven counts. On October 3, 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years in a California state prison.
While serving that sentence, he was convicted in August 2009 for the assault on his former girlfriend on seven counts, including assault with great bodily injury, false imprisonment, making a criminal threat, and auto theft. On December 18, 2009, the fallen football hero was sentenced to 25 years in prison on the 2009 convictions, to run consecutive to the 2008 sentence (which was reduced to just under 7 years), for a combined term of more than 31 years.
3. He Was a Superstar Running Back in College
Phillips was one of the most highly touted, powerful running backs in college football. He ran for more than 3,000 yards in three years at Nebraska, leading the Cornhuskers to national championships in 1994 and 1995.
But his pro career lasted just three years. He was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft and also played with the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers in a troubled career that was plagued by off-field problems and run-ins with the law.
His career dive continued through the Arena Football League, NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League.
4. But His Short NFL Career Was Plagued by Trouble With The Law
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, he moved to California as a boy where he grew up in a series of foster homes. There was signs of the trouble to come at Nebraska when less than two weeks after helping the school secure the 1994 national championship he was in court pleading not guilty to assault and vandalism charges. The following year he was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, a Nebraska basketball player.
To their cost, the St Louis Rams decided to overlook Phillips’ character issues but he only lasted a little over a year before being released because of his inability to stay out of trouble. He lasted even less time at Miami, where he played twice, and San Francisco, who quickly lost patience with his poor play and argumentative nature.
5. Two Inmates Were Allegedly Murdered by Their Cellmates on The Same Day
The California prison service said in a statement that two inmates at Kern Valley State Prison happened at the weekend, but they would not say whether they were linked.
As well as the killing linked to Phillips, the statement says prisoner Rattabak Kim, 41, died as a result of a homicide on Saturday, April 11. Kim’s cellmate, John Munoz, 24, has been named as a suspect in the case.
The second victim, Kim, was serving 35 years to life for conspiracy to murder. Munoz is serving a 42-year, eight-month sentence for or sexual battery, oral copulation with force and violence resulting in great bodily injury, rape/resist with force and violence and first-degree burglary.