In 1996 everyone expected up-and-coming football star Lawrence Phillips to become a major force on the gridiron. But now the first-round draft pick has been found dead in a California jail cell.
Phillips, a former Nebraska football star who Joe Theismann dubbed the best player in the 1996 NFL Draft, was found unresponsive in his cell on January 13. Authorities investigate his death as a suicide.
The former player had been incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California since his 2008 conviction on a list of charges including inflicting injuries, domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and even vehicle theft. Phillips was serving a 31-year sentence.
But last year the 40-year-old former Cornhusker’s troubles got deeper when he became the sole suspect in the murder of his cellmate.
In April prison guards found Phillips’ cellmate, convicted murderer Damion Soward, unresponsive in the prison cell he shared with the former player. Soward died from his injuries the following day.
Phillips immediately became a suspect in the prisoner’s death and prosecutors had set in motion more charges and yet another trial meant to convict Phillips for the death.
It was an ignominious end for a player who showed so much promise. But his troubles have never been a surprise to many who knew him.
His behavior was a problem at least as far back as his days at Nebraska. While in collage he was once suspended for six games after dragging his girlfriend down several flights of stairs by her hair. Despite the charge, he played in Nebraska’s Fiesta Bowl rout of Florida after the 1995 season.
Later, during his tenure in St. Louis, Phillips spent more days in jail (23) than as a starter (19). His propensity towards criminal behavior eventually chased him from Miami when the Dolphins released him in 1997 after he pleaded guilty to an assault on a woman in a nightclub. Trouble followed him again to San Francisco, too, when the 49ers ended his stint as a result of conduct issues in 1999.
Though going on to play in the Canadian Football League as well as NFL Europe, Phillips never got another shot at playing in the NFL.
But his legal troubles continued when in 2005 he was arrested for violence against another girlfriend and using his car to try and run down some people who irked him. It was this crime spree that led to his 2008 conviction and 31-year prison sentence and to the murder of his cellmate.
In the end, Lawrence Phillips was never able to get past his violent temper.
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