Slain Maryland judge remembered as dedicated and even-keeled

Oct 26, 2023, 9:04 PM

FILE - Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Kevin Tucker, right, swears in Andrew F. Wilkinson as ...

FILE - Washington County Circuit Court Clerk Kevin Tucker, right, swears in Andrew F. Wilkinson as a circuit court judge on Jan. 10, 2020, as Wilkinson's wife, Stephanie, watches. Pedro Argote, 49, is suspected of gunning down the judge in his driveway hours after he ruled against him in a divorce case. The Washington County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the silver Mercedes SUV that Argote was believed to be driving has been located in Williamsport, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southwest of Hagerstown, where the judge was shot outside his home. ( Julie E. Greene/The Herald-Mail via AP)

( Julie E. Greene/The Herald-Mail via AP)

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Just hours before he was killed last week, a Maryland judge known for being fair and even-keeled calmly explained his ruling in a divorce case following hours of emotional testimony.

On the losing end of the ruling was the man suspected of fatally shooting Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Wilkinson later that day in the driveway outside his home. For Wilkinson’s family, friends and colleagues, it’s an unfathomable end to an exceptional life.

“This community is reeling. Our legal community, in particular, is just upended,” said Brett R. Wilson, the circuit court’s administrative judge. “It’s completely unexpected, completely irrational and unsettling.”

Authorities said they believe Pedro Argote, 49, shot and killed the judge because he was angry about losing custody of his four children. Wilkinson, 52, ruled in favor of Argote’s wife following a hearing that Argote didn’t attend.

After a weeklong search spanning several states, Argote’s body was found Thursday in a heavily wooded area in Williamsport, about a mile from where authorities discovered his Mercedes SUV on Saturday. The area is about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southwest of Hagerstown, where the judge was shot.

A funeral service for Wilkinson is scheduled to be held Friday at a church in his hometown.

Wilkinson previously presided over several high-profile cases since his appointment to the bench nearly four years ago, including a 2018 deadly stabbing outside a downtown Hagerstown bar and a high school teacher convicted of having sex with a student.

Wilson met Wilkinson years ago when he was fresh out of law school and clerking for a local judge. He was determined to follow in the footsteps of a relative who served as a judge in Pennsylvania, Wilson said.

“Some people have dreams. Drew had goals. And one of his goals was to become a judge,” she said.

Wilkinson was never at risk of developing “robe-itis,” a term for judges prone to ill-tempered, authoritarian streaks once they don a black robe. He “never lost his cool,” had a wry sense of humor and respected everybody who came to the courthouse, Wilson said.

Wilkinson readily took on tough cases, saving the court time and writing opinions and rulings that made cases simpler, Wilson said.

“It is that way of being able to depersonalize what was happening in the courtroom and focus on the job that he was appointed to do,” Wilson said.

During the Oct. 19 divorce hearing, Wilkinson expressed deep concern for the children involved. At an earlier hearing where Argote represented himself, Wilkinson repeatedly paused to explain court procedures and make sure Argote understood the process. Argote was cordial in exchanges with the judge and didn’t raise his voice.

Washington County Attorney Kirk Downey, who worked with Wilkinson in the county attorney’s office more than a decade ago, said the county’s tight-knit, collegial legal community has felt a “great sense of loss.”

Wilkinson was “unassuming” and didn’t take himself too seriously. “He treated people who appeared before him with kindness and respect,” Downey added.

Wilkinson, whose late father was a U.S. Navy commander, was born in Guam and spent his early childhood overseas, including in Thailand.

Hagerstown became his home after his mother was hired as a law clerk there in 1983. He later clerked for the judge who hired his mom, retired Judge Frederick Wright III. Wright praised Wilkinson’s legacy in the immediate aftermath of his death last week, calling him “an outstanding young man.”

Wilkinson earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating from Emory University School of Law in 1997, he worked as a clerk at Washington County’s circuit court and then joined a private practice.

He left the firm in 2006 to become an assistant county attorney in Washington County. Six years later, he started his own law office.

In recent years, he represented companies pursuing proposals to install solar farms in the largely rural communities around Hagerstown.

Wilkinson was sworn in as a circuit court judge in January 2020 after being appointed by former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. Bullet-resistant glass was installed for the exterior windows of Wilkinson’s chamber and courtroom, according to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

Hogan said in a social media post last week that he was “deeply saddened” by Wilkinson’s killing.

“This act of horrific violence not only takes away a respected community figure but also shakes the foundation of our justice system,” Hogan wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We mourn the loss of Judge Wilkinson, a dedicated public servant, and an exemplary member of our community.”

Wilkinson coached youth sports, including soccer, and was active in his community, serving on the board of directors for the Hagerstown YMCA. He is survived by his wife, Stephanie Wilkinson; a daughter, Caroline; and a son, Grant.

Stephanie Wilkinson said in a statement Wednesday that her family is grateful for the community’s support and for law enforcement’s work on the investigation.

“This is such an unexpected loss to us, and words do not exist to describe the amazing person Drew was,” she said.

His funeral was scheduled for Friday morning at St. Ann Catholic Church in Hagerstown. State court officials said the service would be closed to the media.

United States News

Associated Press

Winter weather in Pacific Northwest cuts power to thousands in Seattle, dumps snow on Cascades

SEATTLE (AP) — Winter weather brought high winds and snow to parts of the Pacific Northwest, knocking out power in some areas and dumping fresh snow across the Cascade Range. Thousands of households were without power Saturday morning in the greater Seattle area after a night of rain and wind, the Seattle Times reported. Seattle […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Group of swing state Muslims vows to ditch Biden in 2024 over his war stance

CHICAGO (AP) — Muslim community leaders from several swing states pledged to withdraw support for U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday at a conference in suburban Detroit, citing his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Democrats in Michigan have warned the White House that Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war could cost him […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Sheriff says Alabama family’s pet ‘wolf-hybrid’ killed their 3-month-old boy

CHELSEA, Ala. (AP) — A 3-month-old boy was killed as his parents tried to rescue the baby from the family pet, a hybrid animal that was part dog, part wolf, authorities said. The boy had been bitten but was alive when first responders arrived shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday at the home in Chelsea. He […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Vermont day care provider convicted of causing infant’s death with doses of antihistamine

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — A child care provider accused of sedating an infant with an antihistamine was convicted of manslaughter, and faces up to 25 years in prison when she’s sentenced. A jury on Friday convicted of Stacey Vaillancourt of manslaughter and child cruelty in the 2019 death of Harper Rose Briar in Vaillancourt’s home […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

West Virginia prison inmate indicted on murder charge in missing daughter’s death

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia prison inmate whose infant daughter has been missing for more than two years has been indicted on murder and other charges, authorities said. A grand jury in Cabell County indicted Shannon Patrick Overstreet on charges of murder; death of a child by a parent by child abuse, and […]

7 hours ago

FILE - White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi attends a speech by President Joe Biden about supply c...

Associated Press

Biden rule aims to reduce methane emissions, targeting US oil and gas industry for global warming

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Saturday issued a final rule aimed at reducing methane emissions, targeting the U.S. oil and natural gas industry for its role in global warming as President Joe Biden seeks to advance his climate legacy. The Environmental Protection Agency said the new rule will sharply reduce methane and other […]

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.

Slain Maryland judge remembered as dedicated and even-keeled