Maryland: Man suspected of killing judge who ruled against him in divorce case found dead

A man suspected of killing a judge who ruled against him in a divorce case last week has been found dead in a wooded area not far from where the shooting took place.

Authorities believe Pedro Argote, 49, was angry about losing custody of his children when he shot and killed the judge, sparking a weeklong manhunt in rural Maryland.

The attack unfolded outside the home of Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson, who was shot on his driveway on 19 October.

Hours earlier, Judge Wilkinson had presided over a hearing in which Argote's wife and daughter delivered emotional testimonies about the abuse they had suffered at his hands for years.

Argote was not present at the hearing, which concluded with Judge Wilkinson ruling against him and awarding his wife sole custody of their four children.

Police launched a search for Argote almost immediately after the shooting.

They discovered his SUV in a wooded area in Williamsport, about eight miles southwest of Hagerstown, where the judge was shot.

Authorities searched the area where the vehicle was found and concluded Argote wasn't there.

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But, on Thursday morning, the authorities said 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.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the Maryland judiciary praised the work of law enforcement officers and asked for privacy on behalf of Judge 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 the 52-year-old judge is scheduled for Friday morning in Hagerstown.

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

Judge Wilkinson said he found Argote "abusive in multiple ways."

The recent divorce hearing lasted two days.

During the first half, which took place on 26 September, Argote represented himself.

He at times expressed frustration, but his voice remained calm, and he addressed Judge Wilkinson respectfully as "your honour".

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 on Wilkinson's driveway.

The circuit court judge was a long-time resident of Hagerstown and heavily involved in the community.

The city of nearly 44,000 lies about 75 miles northwest of Baltimore.