April 16 (Reuters) - A California coroner has ruled that the death of a former NFL player's prison cellmate was a homicide by strangulation, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.
Lawrence Phillips, 39, was suspected in the death of 37-year-old Damion Soward, who was found unresponsive in their cell on Saturday and died at a local hospital the next day, officials at the Kern Valley State Prison said on Monday.
The Times reported on Wednesday that the Kern County coroner's office said Soward died of neck compression asphyxia, and that his death was a homicide.
Representatives for the coroner's office could not be immediately reached.
Soward was serving a sentence of 82 years to life for first-degree murder, prison officials said. The Los Angeles Times reported that Soward was a gang member who was convicted of executing a member of a rival gang.
Phillips played for three NFL teams over four years in the 1990s, ending his career with the San Francisco 49ers in 1999.
Officials said Phillips entered the prison in the central California city of Delano in October 2008 and was serving a sentence of 31 years and four months for domestic violence, 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.
Prison officials said Phillips was placed in a separate unit pending the outcome of their 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 in San Francisco; Editing by Michael Perry)