The attorney representing former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips claims Phillips was acting in self-defense in the death of his cellmate at Kern Valley State Prison in California, reports USA Today.
Phillips, who played three seasons in the NFL after being chosen in the first round of the 1996 draft, entered a plea of not guilty to his first-degree murder charge on Tuesday.
On April 11, guards at Kern Valley found Phillips’s cellmate, Damion Soward, unresponsive inside the shared cell. A coroner’s report later found the cause of death was strangulation, which T. Alan Rogers, Phillips’s public defense attorney, said supports the claim that Phillips did not set out to murder his cellmate.
“If you really want to kill someone in prison, you use a shank,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that all hits, green lights, are orchestrated when people have premeditation or an intent to kill because it’s so effective.”
Rogers is hoping Phillips‘s charge is reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
“I think the evidence is going to prove that, that he had to defend himself to the death,” Rogers said. “He basically had no escape. And when you’re forced to defend yourself and subject to this violent environment with no one that can help you, you have to defend yourself. This is a kill-or-be-killed environment.”
Phillips was originally imprisoned for driving his car into three teenage girls and assaulting his ex-girlfriend. He is serving a 31-year sentence.
- Erin Flynn