Former Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips this month will face first-degree murder charges in the April death of his cellmate at Kern Valley (California) State Prison, a Kern County prosecutor confirmed to The World-Herald Wednesday. The news was originally reported by USA Today.
Andi Bridges, the deputy district attorney who will prosecute the case, said charges were brought against Phillips Tuesday night. Phillips' former cellmate, convicted gang member Damion Soward, was found dead in Phillips' cell in April. The Kern County District Attorney's office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have been investigating the case since then.
Phillips will be arraigned Sept. 15. He'll remain at Kern Valley Prison until the court date, then be transported to the courthouse. Phillips will remain in the prison for the duration of the trial except for court appearances.
Bridges said the district attorney's office does not believe Phillips was acting in self-defense but also didn't believe the alleged murder met the standard of a death penalty case, which in California requires certain aggravating factors. If found guilty, Phillips faces an additional 25 years-to-life sentence on top of the 31-year, fourmonth sentence he was serving for several convictions, including domestic violence toward an ex-girlfriend and driving his car into a group of teenagers.
Soward was himself serving a lengthy sentence for murder. Bridges said that didn't matter — nor did it matter that both were in prison — in considering whether Phillips should be charged.
"What kind of message would it send if you were permitted by law enforcement to commit murder at will?" Bridges said. "In our state, it's the taking of a human life. Not the taking of a good life, just the taking of a life."