Phillips had been charged with killing a fellow inmate, and on Tuesday, a judge ruled there was enough evidence to go to trial

By Greg Hanlon
Updated January 13, 2016 06:00 PM

Former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips was found dead in his prison cell early Wednesday morning in what officials at California’s Kern Valley State Prison are calling a suspected suicide.

Staff conducting security checks found Phillips, 40, unresponsive shortly after midnight. He was transported to an outside hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Philips entered Kern Valley in 2008 and had been serving a 31-year sentence after being convicted of twice choking his then-girlfriend in 2005 and later that year of driving his car into three teens at a pickup football game.

But he had been charged with the strangulation murder of his cellmate, Damion Soward, and on Tuesday, a judge ruled there was enough evidence to move forward with the trial. Phillips could have faced the death penalty if convicted.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Philips grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles and starred at the University of Nebraska, where he was accused of dragging his girlfriend down a flight of stairs by her hair. He became the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft but his career was beset by unproductive play and off-the-field problems.