A man suspected of fatally shooting a Maryland judge has been found dead after a weeklong search.
Pedro Manuel Argote, the man suspected of fatally shooting Judge Andrew Wilkinson. (Washington County Sheriff’s Office)
Pedro Argote was wanted in the killing of Washington County Circuit Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was fatally shot at his home on Oct. 19, hours after he ruled against Argote in a child custody case.
On Thursday, Oct. 26, around 11 a.m., Argote’s body was found in a heavily wooded area near the community of Pinesburg, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said. The site, in Maryland’s panhandle, was about a mile from where his car was found on Saturday.
A press conference was scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern time.
Argote had failed to appear at the Oct. 19 hearing in which Wilkinson granted Argote’s wife a divorce and sole custody of their four children. Later that day, authorities say, Argote showed up at Wilkinson’s home and shot him to death in his driveway.
Wilkinson ruled against Argote after hearing testimony from his wife and an adult daughter, who said he controlled every aspect of their lives, keeping them isolated and subjecting them to various acts of violence in recent years.
Police have pointed to the judge’s decision as a motive for the shooting, which sent a shock wave through Maryland’s legal community.
Wilkinson concluded that Argote wasn’t fit to have custody of his four younger children, ages 12, 11, 5 and 3.
“The manner in which Mr. Argote has isolated these children and mom over the past two years, I think that has gone on throughout the marriage, and it’s shocking,” the judge said. “I think he is abusive in multiple ways.”
His adult daughter from a previous relationship said she spent most of her teenage years confined to her bedroom. She said Argote had cameras installed throughout the house and was “watching my every move.” During emotional testimony, she said he would beat her with a belt and other objects — “whatever he had close by.”
“The reason I worked up the courage to testify was so that my siblings wouldn’t have to go through the mental torment that I currently have,” she told the court, explaining that she left home at 18 to escape the abuse and hadn’t had contact with her father since.
Argote’s wife described in detail how he rendered her powerless and mistreated their children. She wept while recounting how he would stuff a towel into their crying baby’s mouth. The conditions only worsened after he found out she planned to leave him last year, she said.
Before she could get the paperwork together, Argote filed for divorce himself. Court records show a messy legal battle ensued and Argote’s abuse escalated, according to court testimony.
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The recent divorce hearing lasted two days. During the first half, which took place Sept. 26, Argote represented himself. He testified about the couple’s finances and repeatedly questioned whether his children were receiving adequate homeschooling instruction from their mother, claiming she was too lenient with them. During his testimony, Argote 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.
“I’m not sure that I find that believable,” Wilkinson said, explaining his decision to proceed.
Erika Garrott Johnson, the attorney representing Argote’s wife, said she believes Argote didn’t come to court because he didn’t want to hear his family’s emotional testimony “and because he knows the writing is on the wall.”
The judge ruled out visitation rights and barred Argote from contacting his children or visiting the family’s house.
Wilkinson was shot in his driveway while his wife and son were in their home, in Hagerstown.
Sheriff’s deputies found Argote’s Mercedes SUV in a wooded area about 8 miles from the judge’s home, but concluded he wasn’t in the area.