Lawrence Phillips' family to donate brain to CTE research, attorney says

— -- The family of former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips will donate his brain to chronic traumatic encephalopathy researchers at Boston University, attorney Dan Chamberlain told USA Today Sports.

Phillips, 40, was found unresponsive at Kern Valley State Prison in California and died at a hospital early Wednesday. The Kern County coroner's office on Friday ruled his death a suicide. He had been awaiting a trial that could have brought him the death penalty.

Chamberlain, who is representing Phillips' family and who represented him in a lawsuit brought by retired players against the NFL over concussions, told USA Today Sports that the family hopes a study of Phillips' brain will provide answers.

"[Phillips' mother] wanted an explanation about what happened, and I told her, 'Look, the only way you can really explain it is by examining his brain,'" Chamberlain told the newspaper. "I told her, 'You owe it to your son, you owe it to every other NFL, college and pee wee and high school and middle school player that played football.'"

Chamberlain also said Phillips' estate could receive up to $5 million from the $1 billion settlement the NFL previously reached with the retired players. However, the settlement is being challenged by another group of former players in part because it excludes future payments for CTE, the brain decay linked to concussions that has been found in dozens of former players after their deaths.

The settlement granted up to $4 million for prior deaths involving CTE, but it set an April 2015 cutoff date to avoid incentivizing suicides.

Chamberlain had told USA Today Sports in September that Phillips would receive an estimated $1.4 million from the settlement and that it would be used to fund his legal defense against a first-degree murder charge. In addition, the attorney said he believed head injuries suffered playing football might have played a role in Phillips' troubles with the law.

Phillips was accused of killing his cellmate, Damion Soward, 37, the cousin of former University of Southern California and NFL wide receiver R. Jay Soward.

Phillips' defense attorney, Jesse Whitten, said his client seemed upbeat a day before his death even though a judge ordered him to face trial on the murder charge. A conviction could have led to the death penalty, but prosecutors said no decision on that had been made.

His death will be reviewed by the federal official who controls the prison medical system, along with federal officials and lawyers involved in a long-running lawsuit over the care of mentally ill inmates.

Phillips was sentenced to more than 31 years in prison in 2008 after he was convicted of twice choking his girlfriend in 2005 in San Diego and of driving his car into three teens later that year after a pickup football game in Los Angeles.

Phillips went from a West Covina, California, group home to become a star running back at the University of Nebraska. But he pleaded no contest to beating a former girlfriend hours after a spectacular performance in a September 1995 win at Michigan State University.

He was reinstated after a six-game suspension and inpatient therapy for anger management.

He was drafted No. 6 overall by the St. Louis Rams in 1996 but released the next year for insubordination. He also played for the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers but was out of the NFL by 2000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.