Duval County Circuit Judge Jeff Morrow died in his sleep early Wednesday morning. He was 56.
His cause of death was said to be an apparent heart attack.
"Jeff was one of our favorites judges around here. He lived life to the fullest," Chief Judge Donald Moran said. "He was a really, really active individual, and he's going to be very much missed. He brought a sense of levity to things and difficult jobs. He made it more pleasant to work with."
Morrow was an avid outdoorsman, and video of him catching a sailfish while fishing from a kayak was shown not only on Channel 4 news, but was also featured on National Geographic television.
Morrow was elected in 2008 and first served in juvenile court, where he presided over the case of Brandon Hodges, who was found guilty of a lesser charge in a fatal crash that killed several of his classmates. After moving to criminal court, Morrow presided over several high-profile criminal cases, including the murder convictions of Steven Montgomery and Deangelo Thomas.
Last month, Morrow presided over the Thomas trial in which a jury convicted him of killing Navy Chief Petty Officer David Gilbert. Another sentencing hearing was scheduled before Morrow on Friday.
The jury deadlocked 6-6 in the penalty phase of that case, which usually means the defendant will be sentenced to life in prison. But on Tuesday, prosecutors asked Morrow to give Thomas the death penalty anyway because of the heinous nature of the killing.
Moran said he will handle Morrow's schedule for the time being, but it will be difficult to do. The governor will appoint a replacement.
Morrow's friends said the judge was dedicated to the job. State Attorney Angela Corey was in tears as she talked about a man she's known her entire legal career. She is also good friends with Morrow's wife, Susie, who she knew before they were married. Morrow also has a daughter in college and a son in high school.
"I want the public to know that as caring as Judge Morrow was about his cases as a lawyer, public defender and a judge, he is so much more caring as a father and a husband," Corey said. "He is just a wonderful man."
Attorney Howard Coker was also a good friend of Morrow's. He never tried a case before Morrow but said his friend never had an enemy.
"Let me say this: He's one of those people that if you didn't like Jeff Morrow, you ought to have yourself checked out. He was that great of a guy," Coker said.
Not just judges and attorneys spoke highly of Morrow, but his bailiff, who was his friend for 30 years, said the judge was a dynamic man.
"What a great guy he was," Layton Boyette said. "He was down to earth and would talk to you on any level. He was a good, fair man."