The prisoner former Nebraska star running back Lawrence Phillips is accused of murdering in his cell was a gang member serving 82 years behind bars for killing a rival gang banger.
Damion Soward, 37, was found unresponsive in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison at 12.46 a.m. on April 11, 2015 and died the following evening at Delano Regional Medical Center, according to a prison service media statement.
Phillips 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.
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.
Before he was a convicted felon, 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 he was a bust in the NFL and his career dive continued through the Arena Football League, NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League. He is currently serving 31 years in prison for choking his girlfriend and driving his car into three teens after getting into an argument with them while playing a pick-up football game.
Here’s what you need to know about prison murder victim Damion Soward:
1. He Was a Member of the Inland Empire Projects Gang in San Bernardino, California
According to legal papers documenting Soward’s appeal against his murder conviction, he and his victim, Michael Fairley, were members of rival cliques in the feared Inland Empire Projects gang and had gotten into a fistfight in February, 2002, with Fairley ending up with a black eye.
A jury found Soward guilty of one count of first degree murder after three mistrials due to deadlocked juries. His appeal was denied despite his claims that he was unfairly targeted because he had gang ties.
San Bernardino has a serious gang problem (see video above).
2. He Was Sentenced to 82 Years to Life for Shooting Dead a Rival Gangster Nicknamed ‘Trouble’ in 2002
He was sentenced to 82 years to life and was serving his time as Phillips’ cellmate at the time of the murder.
The July 15, 2010 findings of the Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, described the events leading up to the murder carried out by Soward.
Here are the “facts” outlined in the court file:
“He asked a woman outside, Sharon Walker, “Hey, you all know anybody from Ninth Street Murder Block?” Walker answered “no” and went inside an apartment. Defendant followed her, knocked on the door, and asked, “Where’s Trouble at?”
“He forced his way inside and shot the victim several times in front of several eyewitnesses. As defendant was shooting, he told the victim, “what’s up now bitch” and “put your feet on someone now bitch.” Defendant ran to a car and drove off, shouting “Projects.”
3. Two Prisoners Were Murdered in Their Cells
The California prison service said in a statement that two inmates at Kern Valley State Prison were killed on the same day in their cells on Saturday, but they would not say whether they were linked.
As well as the homicide linked to Phillips (above, as a St Louis Ram), 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.
4. Phillips Was Moved to a Segregated Unit at the Prison While the Death Was Being Investigated
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.
Both Phillips and Munoz are being held in the prison’s segregation unit.
5. Prison Officials Have Not Revealed How Soward Died
No details have yet been revealed on the method Phillips (above as a Miami Dolphin) allegedly used to murder Soward. All they would say was that he was found “unresponsive in his cell.”
Kern Valley State Prison opened in 2005 and houses 3,756 minimum, medium, maximum and high-security custody inmates