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Suspect in killing of a Maryland judge who presided over divorce case is found dead

Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Kevin Tucker (right) swears in Andrew Wilkinson as a circuit court judge on Jan. 10, 2020, as Wilkinson's wife, Stephanie, watches.
Julie E. Greene
The Herald-Mail via AP, File
Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Kevin Tucker (right) swears in Andrew Wilkinson as a circuit court judge on Jan. 10, 2020, as Wilkinson's wife, Stephanie, watches.

A man suspected of killing the Maryland judge who ruled against him in a divorce case last week was found dead Thursday in a heavily wooded area not far from where the shooting unfolded, ending a weeklong manhunt that rocked the largely rural community.

Authorities believe Pedro Argote, 49, was angry about losing custody of his children when he shot and killed the judge. The Oct. 19 attack unfolded outside the home of Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was shot in his driveway.

Hours earlier, Wilkinson had presided over a hearing in which Argote's wife and daughter delivered emotional testimony about the abuse he inflicted upon them for years. Argote failed to show up for the hearing, which concluded with Wilkinson ruling against him and awarding his wife sole custody of their four children.

Law enforcement launched a search for Argote almost immediately after the shooting. They discovered his SUV in a wooded area in Williamsport, about 8 miles southwest of Hagerstown, where the judge was shot.

Authorities searched the area where the vehicle was found and concluded Argote wasn't there. But officials said Thursday morning that they had returned to the area to conduct "additional evidentiary searches." They said there was no safety concern.

Argote's body was found in a heavily wooded area about a mile from the SUV, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office. They did not release a suspected cause of death.

The sheriff's office said there will be a news conference at 3 p.m. Thursday with updates on the case.

During testimony in Wilkinson's courtroom last week, Argote's relatives said he controlled every aspect of their lives, keeping them isolated and subjecting them to various acts of violence in recent years.

Wilkinson, whose funeral is scheduled for Friday morning in Hagerstown, said he found Argote "abusive in multiple ways."

The recent divorce hearing lasted two days. During the first half, which took place Sept. 26, Argote represented himself. He at times expressed frustration, but his voice remained calm and he often addressed the judge respectfully as "your honor." But Argote failed to appear for the second half of the hearing last week. Instead, he called the courthouse saying he had a headache.

The judge ruled out visitation rights and barred Argote from contacting his children or visiting the family's house.

Hours later, authorities say, he showed up in Wilkinson's driveway.

The circuit court judge was a longtime resident of Hagerstown and heavily involved in the community. The city of nearly 44,000 lies about 75 miles northwest of Baltimore in the panhandle of Maryland.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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