Former San Francisco 49er a suspect in death of prison cellmate

SAN FRANCISCO, April 13 (Reuters) - A former NFL running back for the San Francisco 49ers who was sent to a California prison for domestic violence, vehicle theft and other charges, is a suspect in the death of his cellmate, officials said on Monday. Lawrence Phillips, 39, was a suspect in the killing of 37-year-old Damion Soward, who was found unresponsive in the cell on Saturday and died at a local hospital the next day, Kern Valley State Prison spokesman Lieutenant Marshall Denning said in a statement. Details on the incident were not provided immediately. Soward was serving a sentence of 82 years to life for first-degree murder, the statement said. Phillips played for three NFL teams over four years in the 1990s, ending his career with the San Francisco 49ers in 1999. The statement said Phillips entered Kern Valley State Prison in the central California city of Delano in October 2008 and was serving a sentence of 31 years and four months for inflicting great bodily injury, corporal injury to spouse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft. Local media said at the time the charges stemmed from two instances where he choked his girlfriend, including once where she lost consciousness. Phillips had also been convicted of driving his car into three teenagers after a pickup football game in an unrelated case, according to local media. The statement said Phillips was placed in a separate unit pending the outcome of the investigation. It said prison officials there were also investigating a separate case involving another inmate over the death of another cellmate. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Paul Tait)