Lawrence Phillips, former NFL running back and standout at The University of Nebraska, was found dead Wednesday morning inside his prison cell, according to the USA Today. He was 40-years-old. Phillips was serving a 31-year sentence that began in 2008 at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. Prison authorities are investigating the death as a potential suicide. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton reported that the prison staff found Phillips to be unresponsive after a routine security and curfew check just after midnight local time.
The staff rushed Lawrence Phillips to a local medical facility, where he was pronounced dead an hour and a half later. Considered by many as the definition of wasted potential, a life littered with poor choices comes to a sad conclusion.
Phillips was on trial for the murder of his cellmate and was facing the death penalty if he were to be convicted. He never let it get that far after a Superior Court judge ruled there was “sufficient cause to believe” Lawrence Phillips committed murder. This news coming just one day prior to Phillips’ death.
In a haunting foreshadowing, Lawrence Phillips wrote a letter to his mother a month before the death of his Kern Valley State Prison cellmate.
The letter, dated March 5, 2015, read in part, “I feel myself very close to snapping. My anger grows daily as I have become fed up with prison. I feel my anger is near bursting and that will result in my death or the death of someone else.”
On April 11, 2015, the body of Damion Soward (Phillips’ cellmate) was found unresponsive in their cell on account of strangulation, according to the coroner’s report. Blood was discovered on both Soward’s body and Phillips’ clothing as well as many other personal items within the cell. Phillips was immediately identified as the key suspect, and the District Attorney’s office moved swiftly to bring Lawrence Phillips to justice.
Lawrence Phillips was considered one of the all-time greatest college running backs when he started for Nebraska in the mid-90s. He and quarterback Tommie Frazier led the Cornhuskers to back-to-back National Championships in 1994 and 95. Phillips finished eighth in Heisman voting after his sophomore season in 1994. With the blessing of his head coach, Tom Osborne, Phillips declared for the 1996 NFL Draft following a 165-yard and two-touchdown performance in Nebraska’s 62-24 Fiesta Bowl win over the University of Florida.
The St. Louis Rams selected Lawrence Phillips with the sixth overall pick of the draft. He was the first running back selected, going ahead of Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka and future four-time pro bowler, as well as 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. Phillips’ addition to the Rams paved the way for the team to trade future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers on draft day.
The football career of Lawrence Phillips turned out to be overshadowed by his actions off the field, however, tracing back to his collegiate days. He was charged with assault and vandalism stemming from an incident in March of 1994. He then assaulted an ex-girlfriend during the 1995 season, which became a major headline throughout the country. Phillips’ troubles followed him to the NFL, where he was arrested three times for various violations while with the Rams, spending a total of 23 days in jail in what turned out to be a two-year stint with St. Louis.
The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers gave Lawrence Phillips his second and third chances at NFL stardom, but another assault charge and constant “conduct detrimental to the team” charges resulted in releases. Various arguments and spats with coaches from the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League officially put an end to his football career and set him upon the path that ended in a jail cell Wednesday. The 31-year sentence Phillips was serving was the result of another assault charge, as well as attempting to run over three teenage girls with his car in 2005. Lawrence Phillips is dead at the age of 40.
[Photo by Eric Draper/AP, File]