January 13, 2016 / 7:13 PM / 2 years ago

Ex-NFL player Phillips dead in California prison of suspected suicide

3 Min Read

Montreal Alouettes running back Lawrence Phillips (R) takes part in the team's practice at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, in this November 16, 2002 file photo. Phillips, a former National Football League player convicted of inflicting great bodily injury in a domestic violence case, was found dead in his California prison cell early on January 13, 2016 of a suspected suicide, officials said.Shaun Best/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lawrence Phillips, a former NFL player convicted in a domestic violence case and later charged with murdering a cellmate, was found dead in his California prison cell early on Wednesday of a suspected suicide, officials said.

The 40-year-old Phillips' death came less than five months after he was charged with murder in the April 11, 2015, strangling of his cellmate, a prison spokeswoman said.

The former University of Nebraska star was awaiting trial in that case and faced a possible life sentence if convicted.

He was found unresponsive shortly after midnight at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, a town about 130 miles (210 km) north of Los Angeles, and rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead early on Wednesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Prison officials said they were treating it as a suspected suicide. Citing privacy rules, corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas declined to say how Phillips might have killed himself.

The former running back, who had been held alone in a prison cell since the death of his 37-year-old cellmate, Damion Soward, was sent to prison in 2008 to serve a sentence of more than 31 years, officials said.

He was convicted that year in San Diego County of inflicting great bodily injury in a domestic violence incident, corporal injury, false imprisonment and vehicle theft, prison officials said.

Media reports at the time said the former player had choked his girlfriend, leaving her unconscious.

Phillips played for three National Football League teams in the 1990s, joining the St. Louis Rams as a first-round pick in 1996 and finishing with the San Francisco 49ers in 1999 after rushing for 1,453 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns during his NFL career.

He ended his playing days with stints in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League, where he was an all-star on the Montreal Alouettes' 2002 Grey Cup championship team.

Phillips, who spent time in foster care as a child before becoming a two-time college football national champion at the University of Nebraska, also had a number of arrests on his record before his most recent conviction.

While at college, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault charges after attacking his former girlfriend, according to a media report at the time.

Representatives from the NFL Players Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Cooney

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