Jailed NFL Player Kills Cellmate

Apr 19, 2015

On April 11, 2015, officials at the California penal institution of Kern Valley State Prison discovered convicted murderer Damion Soward, 37, unresponsive in his cell. He was rushed to a hospital where he died the next day. 

The Kern County Coroner’s Office determined that Soward died of neck compression asphyxia and ruled his death a homicide -- his cellmate, former NFL player Lawrence Phillips is suspected of the killing.

Phillips, 39, has a lengthy history of getting into trouble. In the 1990s, he played for the St. Louis Rams, the Miami Dolphins, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was playing for the 49ers when he retired from football in 1999. Phillips was considered a top player in college but began having trouble in his professional career. The St. Louis Rams released him in 1997 for insubordination.

Two years prior to that release, in 1995, police arrested him for trespassing and misdemeanor assault on a girlfriend. The assault was allegedly triggered because he found her in bed with another man. He pled no contest to both trespassing and misdemeanor assault.

In 1997, the same year the St. Louis Rams released Lawrence Phillips for insubordination and he began playing for the Miami Dolphins, police again arrested him for misdemeanor assault at a Florida nightclub. Authorities alleged that he struck a woman for refusing to dance with him. He again pled no contest to misdemeanor assault.

Years after his football career was finished, in 2005, police arrested him for punching and choking a girlfriend in San Diego. Only a week later, he was again arrested for deliberately running over with a car three teenagers he accused of stealing some of his possession. At trial, he was convicted of domestic violence, false imprisonment, and vehicle theft.

Phillips’ alleged victim was reputed to have belonged to a gang that called itself the “Inland Empire.” He was serving an 82-years-to-life sentence for the execution-style murder of Michael “Trouble” Fairley, a rival gang member.

Kern Valley State Prison officials report that Phillips has been placed in a separate unit. Authorities continue to investigate Soward’s death and Phillips’ suspected role in it.

DENISE NOE

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