Former football star found dead after death sentence verdict

Former Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips was found dead in prison.

The former football star  was found unresponsive early Wednesday at Kern Valley State Prison and rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported

The death is being investigated as a suspected suicide, according to press release from the department.

Phillips, 40,  who was reported to be facing the possible death penalty in the alleged murder of his former cellmate at Kern Valley State Prison.

At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, a Superior Court judge ruled there was "sufficient cause to believe'' Phillips committed murder, according to court records, which cleared the way for a trial that could have ended with Phillips getting the death penalty.

Jesse Whitten, the attorney who was representing Phillips, said the outcome of the hearing was no surprise and Phillips thought he would prevail.

“There was nothing about his demeanor that made me think he was suicidal at all, or depressed,’’ Whitten told USA TODAY Sports. “He was very confident about winning this case and he was even optimistic about his appeal on his prior cases.’’

But Whitten said the hearing did appear to impact Phillips' mood.

“I do think it was hard for him to sit there and listen to people accuse him of this stuff,'' Whitten said. "He was frustrated after the hearing.’’

Tony Zane, who coached Phillips at Baldwin Park High School in Southern California, said he received a letter from Phillips about a month ago and there was no indication Phillips was suicidal.

"It had nothing indicating anything like this,'' Zane told USA TODAY Sports. "He was talking about the fact that his mom had gotten him an attorney.''

Phillips' former cellmate, Damion Soward, was found unresponsive April 11 in the cell the men shared and died as a result of strangulation, according to a coroner’s report. What was believed to be blood was found on Soward, Phillips’ white T-shirt and on several items, including the two T-shirts, pill bottles, a folder and a bag, according to the incident report.

Source: USA Today

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