The body of a man wanted in connection with the shooting death of a judge in Hagerstown has been found not far from where the shooting took place, ending a weeklong search around western Maryland.
In a statement posted to Facebook, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said the body of 49-year-old Pedro Argote was located at around 11 a.m., during an expanded evidentiary search near Williamsport. Investigators found Argote’s car in the area over the weekend.
Deputies had been looking for Argote since Oct. 19, when Maryland Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson was shot to death outside his home.
Wilkinson, 52, ruled against Argote in divorce proceedings 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.
The sheriff’s office has pointed to that decision as a motive for the shooting.
Sheriff’s deputies found Argote’s Mercedes SUV in a wooded area south of Hagerstown on Saturday, but concluded he wasn’t in the area.
Officials said Thursday morning that they had returned to the area to conduct “additional evidentiary searches” and found the body.
“We hastily searched that area, but we were just going over it systematically today,” said Washington County Sheriff Brian Albert at a news conference Thursday.
Albert said officials couldn’t yet answer questions about the time or cause of Argote’s death, pending an autopsy. However, officials and Wilkinson’s family were “relieved” that the suspect’s body was located. Some law enforcement officers came to the news conference from a viewing for Wilkinson, where they visited with his family.
“It’s a relief, but it’s still a tragedy that we’re dealing with … kind of a somber moment for us,” Albert said in response to a question about the Wilkinson family’s reaction.
Washington County Attorney Kirk Downey, who worked with Wilkinson in the county attorney’s office more than a decade ago, learned of the suspect’s death as he also prepared to attend the viewing. Downey said the discovery will bring some measure of relief to a community that has remained on edge for nearly a week.
“I’m still in disbelief that this has happened,” he said of his friend’s killing. “It’s just so senseless and tragic.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Maryland judiciary praised the work of law enforcement and asked for privacy on behalf of Wilkinson’s family.
“We continue to grieve the loss of our colleague and friend while supporting the Wilkinson family, the judges and staff of the Circuit Court for Washington County, and the entire Hagerstown and broader Washington County community,” the statement said.
A funeral for Wilkinson, 52, is scheduled for Friday morning in Hagerstown.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.