Coroner: Ex-RB Lawrence Phillips’ cellmate died by strangulation

Lawrence Phillips runs for a touchdown for Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Eric Draper/AP


The death of a man sharing a prison cell with former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips was ruled a homicide by strangulation, according to a coroner’s report released Thursday.

Damion Soward, 37, was found lifeless early Saturday in a Central California prison cell, and he was later pronounced dead. The cause of death was neck compression asphyxia, the report by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said.

Officials have said they suspect Phillips, 39, an inmate at Kern Valley State Prison serving a sentence of 31 years and four months. It wasn’t clear if Phillips has an attorney.

Phillips, 39, played three seasons at Nebraska in the mid-90s, rushing for 3,102 yards and 33 touchdowns on 506 carries over three seasons, leading the Cornhuskers to victory in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl and the national championship, rushing for 165 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 62-24 romp over Florida. But his collegiate career was dogged by off-the-field issues, as well, including a $100 lunch paid for by an agent which put his eligibility in question before his junior year, pleading guilty to vandalism and assault, and an arrest for an alleged assault of his then-girlfriend, a Nebraska basketball player.

That arrest ultimately led to Phillips’ brief suspension from the team and, ultimately, a financial settlement with the accuser after she sued Phillips.

After leaving school with a year of eligibility remaining, Phillips was selected in the first round, No. 6 overall, by the St. Louis Rams. But he could never capture the success he enjoyed on the field. The Rams released Phillips in 1997 for insubordination. He also played for the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers before being suspended and ultimately cut loose by the 49ers in November 1999, again for insubordination.

Soward was sentenced from San Bernardino County to serve 82 years to life for a first-degree murder conviction.