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Cornhuskers' Phillips pleads no contest to two misdemeanor charges, third charge dropped

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Sep 19, 1995 - 15:36 EDT) -- Nebraska star tailback Lawrence Phillips pleaded no contest today to two misdemeanor charges and a third charge was dropped.

Phillips, who entered the pleas during an unscheduled appearance in Lancaster County Court, has been suspended from the No. 2 Cornhuskers since his arrest Sept. 10.

Police said Phillips climbed to the third-floor apartment of quarterback Scott Frost, a transfer player from Stanford, and found his ex-girlfriend Kate McEwen, a sophomore basketball player, inside the apartment. Police said Phillips hit McEwen.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 1 on the misdemeanor counts of assault and trespassing. The charges carry a maximum possible penalties of six a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey said his office would recommend Phillips be given probation.

Lacey said prosecutors also would ask the court to require Phillips to receive counseling and complete an anger-control program.

Lacey said a misdemeanor charge of damaging property was dropped because Phillips agreed to pay for about $130 in damage to mailboxes that were struck as he left the apartment building.

Coach Tom Osborne said Monday he would consider allowing Phillips, a junior who had been considered a leading Heisman Trophy contender, to return to the team if he can learn to control his anger.

Osborne said Phillips' return also depends on the outcome of an NCAA investigation, his standing with team rules and the outcome of the legal case against him.

Osborne said Phillips, who rushed for 359 yards and seven touchdowns in the Huskers' first two games, could be reinstated within a month if those steps are taken. He said doctors would have to confirm that Phillips has made progress in controlling his temper.

"I told Lawrence that he definitely needs to have some sort of treatment where he can look at how to control his anger," Osborne said during the Big Eight coaches' teleconference.

"There are several things he has to get ironed out. It's possible that in a month or so, in the best-case scenario, that he could return."

The NCAA has asked Nebraska officials for information about the owners of a West Covina, Calif., group home where Phillips lived as a teen-ager. The home's owners have said they leased a car for Phillips and gave him spending money and airline tickets. The NCAA is trying to determine if the actions violate extra-benefits rules.

Osborne said some critics have mischaracterized Phillips, who was considered a Heisman Trophy contender before he was suspended.

"It's not as though Lawrence is an angry young man all the time and a threat to society. I don't believe that," Osborne said. "But there are occasions every four-five months where he becomes a little explosive.

"We've got to be satisfied here that every precaution has been taken to where he's able to deal with his anger more effectively."

Osborne also took issue with those who say Phillips never should be reinstated.

"I think it's important that he have football out there. Football is what holds everything together for him," he said.

In another case involving a Nebraska football player, Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey said today he won't file charges against backup tailback Damon Benning, who was arrested Sept. 9 after his ex-girlfriend accused him of assault.

Benning told police he was trying to keep her from coming into his apartment after she had threatened to damage his car if he didn't return some pictures to her.

"After a careful review of the evidence presented in the case, I have concluded there are insufficient grounds to believe that a crime was committed by Mr. Benning," Lacey said in a prepared statement.

Another Huskers running back, James Sims, is scheduled to be in court Nov. 7 on misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and vandalism stemming from a July 3 incident.

In a story published today, Sims told the Omaha World-Herald that the incident stemmed from a disagreement with his then live-in girlfriend over some of his belongings. He said the woman began hitting him, and she fell and cut her leg when he pushed her away.

Sims told the paper that her car window was broken during the altercation, which resulted in the vandalism charge.

Nebraska wide receiver Riley Washington has pleaded innocent to attempted second-degree murder and a weapons charge. Washington is practicing with the team but cannot play in games.

Osborne said he is willing to accept at least part of the responsibility for his players' conduct.

"We recruit them," he said. "We deal with them every day. We do the best we can. I think most coaches do.

"But our society has changed. I've been in it now for 35 years where I've seen a tremendous shift in the number of young people coming to us who have been badly scarred by their family background and also society in general.

"You're just dealing with a lot more off-the-field issues. It isn't that we're going out and recruiting less-deserving people or people who are necessarily flawed. You're dealing with a cross-section of society, and that's just the way it is."