Death penalty off the table in Lawrence Phillips murder case

Wednesday September 2nd, 2015

Former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips will not face the death penalty if he is found guilty of murdering his prison cellmate, Kern County (Calif.) District Attorney Andrea Bridges told USA TODAY on Tuesday.

The DA's office concluded there were no “special circumstances” in the case that would allow a California prosecutor to seek the death penalty against Phillips. Circumstances that allow the death penalty in California include multiple murders, murder that occurred during robbery or murder with a prior murder conviction.

On April 11, Damion Soward was found unresponsive in the cell he and Phillips shared at Kern Valley State Prison. Soward was then taken to the hospital, where he died the following evening. He had been serving a sentence of 82 years to life for first-degree murder.

Phillips is set to be arraigned on Sept. 15. If convicted of the murder, Phillips faces 25 years to life. He is expected to plead not guilty.

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A month after Soward's death, Lars Anderson of Bleacher Report reported that Phillips had asked to be put in solitary confinement on several occasions before being placed in a cell with Soward in April. 

Philips is currently serving a 31-year, four-month sentence for “inflicting great bodily injury involving domestic violence, corporal injury to spouse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft.”

In 2005, he was charged with choking his then-girlfriend until she was unconscious. That same year, Phillips also struck three teenagers with a vehicle following a dispute during a youth football game.

Phillips was once a star running back at the University of Nebraska. He was the No. 6 pick in the 1996 draft by the St. Louis Rams. The Rams released Phillips halfway through the 1997 season. He then signed with the Miami Dolphins, but was released after he was charged with assaulting a woman in a Florida nightclub.

- Xandria James

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