70ºF

Navy Chief's Killer Awaits Sentencing

New Judge Took Over Case In Wake Of Judge Jeff Morrow's Death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's still unclear when a man convicted of killing a Navy chief in his home will be sentenced.

In February, a jury recommended life in prison without parole for DeAngelo Thomas, who was found guilty of murder in the death of Navy Chief Petty Officer David Gilbert.

Gilbert, 40, was killed in front of his girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter when he came home and found Thomas burglarizing his apartment, prosecutors said.

Judge Jeff Morrow, who was assigned to the case, died of an apparent heart attack last month, days before Thomas was scheduled to be sentenced.

The jury deadlocked 6-6 in the penalty phase of the case, which usually means the defendant will be sentenced to life in prison. But prosecutors asked Morrow to give Thomas the death penalty anyway because of the heinous nature of the killing.

"Apparently, the reason why people speculated that there might be death imposed in this case is Judge Morrow made a comment on the record that he was considering overriding the jury and recommending death. And then Judge Morrow passed away," attorney Janet Johnson said.

Senior Judge Michael Weatherby has since taken over the case, but he's not quite sure what to do.

"The tricky part in this case is this judge didn't hear any of the penalty phase or the actual trial," Johnson said. "So he's in a position where he's apparently seeking guidance because he doesn't feel comfortable doing that -- imposing the death penalty."

Video:

Johnson said the best option for Weatherby would be to stick with the jury's recommendation for a life sentence.

"I think the prudent thing would be for the state attorney and the defense attorney to agree to a life sentence because the jury was not unanimous, this judge was not the judge that heard the evidence, and it's less appealable if they all agree that life is the appropriate sentence," Johnson said.

Weatherby has a hearing scheduled in this case for April 13.