Police seek man suspected of shooting Maryland judge who denied him child custody

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 on Friday.

The circuit court judge was fatally shot in the driveway of his home in Maryland on Thursday night, police have said.

Circuit court judge Andrew Wilkinson, 52, was found with apparent gunshot wounds around 8pm, the Washington county sheriff’s office said in a statement. He was shot while his wife and son were home and just hours after he ruled against the suspect in a divorce case, authorities said.

The Washington county sheriff, Brian Albert, said authorities were “actively working” to apprehend 49-year-old Pedro Argote for the “targeted attack”.

The wounded Wilkinson was taken by first responders from the residence in Hagerstown, around 75 miles north-west of Baltimore, to Meritus medical center, where he died of his injuries, the sheriff’s office said. The sheriff’s office is investigating the fatal shooting.

State troopers were deployed overnight as a precaution to protect judges who live in Washington county, a state police spokesperson, Elena Russo, said.

Albert said at a news conference on Friday that authorities were “actively looking” for Argote, who is considered “armed and dangerous”. Albert declined to identify that type of weapon used in the killing but said Argote legally owned a handgun.

Wilkinson had presided over a divorce proceeding involving Argote earlier on Thursday but Argote was not present for the hearing.

Albert said that the judge gave custody of Argote’s children to his wife at the hearing and that was the motive for the killing.

Wilkinson was sworn in as a circuit court judge in 2020 after being selected by Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan. The 1994 University of North Carolina graduate received his law degree from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1997 and then became a circuit court law clerk in Washington county.

At his swearing-in, 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.

Court records list Argote as the plaintiff who brought the divorce case in June 2022. Argote did not have a criminal record in Washington county, 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 Associated Press contributed reporting