By MANUEL VALDES and SHANNON DININNY,Associated Press
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A 20-year Army officer in Washington state threatened to blow up the state Capitol and kill his superior officer, his estranged wife and his girlfriend, authorities said Tuesday, adding scrutiny to the troubled base of a soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a shooting spree.
Lt. Col. Robert E. Underwood, who was arrested Monday night and pleaded not guilty to felony harassment charges, told his girlfriend he'd paid a hit man $150,000 to kill both his wife and superior officer, according to court documents.
Underwood threatened to kill the girlfriend after she confronted him about a naked photograph of his daughter on his laptop computer, the documents said. And he reportedly threatened to blow up the state capitol in Olympia, Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, although no charges have been filed on those accusations.
“We charged him with three counts of felony harassment. That's what the evidence supports, that's what we can prove,” he said. “But it's an ongoing investigation.”
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a sprawling base south of Seattle, is already under scrutiny this week because a soldier based there has been held in Afghanistan following the massacre that left 16 Afghan civilians dead in two villages.
The name of the 38-year-old soldier in custody at a base in Kandahar has not been released pending charges. The soldier was deployed to Afghanistan on Dec. 3 with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to a congressional source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Underwood, 46, is assigned to the 191st infantry brigade, a training support brigade, Lewis-McChord spokesman Joe Piek said.
He was being held in the Pierce County jail on $250,000 bail after entering a not guilty plea during his Superior Court arraignment on Tuesday.
Underwood had just arrived at Lewis-McChord in January, after serving a year in Afghanistan from his then-base in Naples, Italy. He also served a stint in Iraq, from March 2004 to February 2005, and spent four months in Bosnia in 1998.
Lindquist said the military has concluded that Underwood does not suffer PTSD, though there may be other mental health issues to be considered.
According to court documents, Underwood witnessed his mother kill his two siblings when he was a young child, and she shot Underwood multiple times and left him for dead.
It's not clear whether Underwood actually went through the plan to hire a hit man, Lindquist said.
Underwood and his wife have been going through a divorce, and recent court hearings regarding money and custody of their children had not gone in his favor.
“The victims obviously had a concern that he meant it, but we don't know what steps, if any, were actually taken,” Lindquist said.
Underwood was commissioned into the Army as a lieutenant in 1992, and was the ROTC instructor at Eastern Washington University from February 2005 to December 2007.
He faces up to five years in prison, but standard sentencing range would be between four and twelve months, Lindquist said.
Dininny reported from Yakima, Wash. Gene Johnson contributed from Seattle.