HAGERSTOWN, Md.—Police are searching for a man suspected of fatally shooting a Maryland judge who had awarded custody of the suspect’s children to his wife on the day of the killing, authorities said Friday.
The judge was shot in his driveway Thursday evening while his wife and son were home and just hours after he ruled against the suspect in a divorce case, authorities said.
Washington County Sheriff Brian Albert said authorities are “actively working” to apprehend 49-year-old Pedro Argote for the “targeted attack” of Maryland Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson.
Judge Wilkinson, 52, was found with gunshot wounds around 8 p.m. Thursday outside his home in Hagerstown, authorities said. Judge Wilkinson was taken to Meritus Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.
Mr. Albert said at a news conference Friday that authorities are “actively looking” for Mr. Argote, who is considered “armed and dangerous.” Mr. Albert declined to identify that type of weapon used in the slaying but said Mr. Argote legally owned a handgun.
Judge Wilkinson had presided over a divorce proceeding involving Argote earlier Thursday, but that Argote was not present for the hearing.
Mr.Albert said that the judge gave custody of Mr. Argote’s children to his wife at the hearing and that was the motive for the killing.
Messages left seeking comments at cell phone numbers listed for Mr. Argote weren’t immediately returned
State troopers were deployed overnight as a precaution to protect judges who live in Washington County, state police spokesperson Elena Russo said. Mr. Albert said he wasn’t aware of any previous threats against Judge Wilkinson.
In a statement, the Maryland Judiciary said it is mourning Judge Wilkinson’s death and that it is working with law enforcement to help resolve the matter and ensure the safety of judges, staff and visitors.
Judge Wilkinson was sworn in as a circuit court judge in 2020. The 1994 University of North Carolina graduate received his law degree from Emory University School of Law in 1997 and then became a circuit court law clerk in Washington County.
At his swearing-in, Judge Wilkinson said he wanted to become a judge to serve the community, The Herald-Mail reported.
“It’s an honor and it’s humbling, and I’m happy to serve,” he said.
Judge Wilkinson thanked retired Judge Frederick C. Wright III for guiding his career. Judge Wilkinson’s military family had moved around, but when Judge Wright hired his mother as a law clerk in 1983, Hagerstown became his home.
In Maryland, circuit courts in each county handle serious criminal and civil cases, including many that are appealed from the lower-level district courts, according to the state courts website.
Court records list Mr. Argote as the plaintiff who brought the divorce case in June 2022. Mr. Argote didn’t have a criminal record in Washington County, Mr. Albert said, but the sheriff added that officers had “responded to the residence for verbal domestic assaults two times within the last few years.”
Attorneys in the divorce case did not immediately respond to emails and calls seeking comment. However, the attorney representing the children in the divorce case had words of praise for the late jurist.
“Judge Wilkinson was an amazing man, father, husband and judge and I am blessed to have known and worked with him,” attorney Ashley Wilburn wrote in an email. “He is a hero.”
The city of nearly 44,000 lies about 75 miles northwest of Baltimore in the panhandle of Maryland, near the state lines of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.