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Prosecutors: Army Lt. Col. Robert Underwood tried to hire hitman to kill wife, superior officer

A U.S. Army officer from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state has been charged with threatening to have his estranged wife and his superior officer killed.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Lt. Col. Robert E. Underwood pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three counts of felony harassment at his Superior Court arraignment in Tacoma. He is being held in the Pierce County Jail.

A Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman said that Underwood had also made threats to blow up the state Capitol in nearby Olympia.


Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been under the microscope since a staff sargeant from there massacred 16 Afghan villagers, including women and children.

According to court documents, Underwood and his wife have been going through a divorce.

Serena Kiptoo, identified in court documents as Underwood's girlfriend, told police that Underwood had said he had paid a hit man $150,000 to kill his wife and his boss, Lt. Col. Shawn Reed.

Reed told police he had ordered that Underwood undergo an involuntary evaluation. 

Kara Underwood, the defendant's wife, told police that Underwood had told their daughter "that he was going to do something crazy and it would be on the news, the world would know about," according to the probable cause document filed by Pierce County prosecutors. The couple is going through the divorce process, which was started in March 2010.

Kara Underwood told a police investigator that her husband "has nothing to lose, he has an arsenal of weapons and she believes he has the ability to save the $150,000 and hide it."

Kiptoo also told police she had seen a nude photo of Underwood's daughter on his laptop and that he threatened her when she confronted him about it.

Underwood has had multiple deployments to Iraq, the court documents said, but has not been diagnosed with PTSD.

However, the probable cause document said, when that Underwood "was a young child he witnessed his mother kill his two siblings. She also shot the defendant multiple times and left him for dead."

Home to about 100,000 military and civilian personnel, the sprawling base south of Puget Sound has also suffered a spate of suicides among soldiers back from war. The Army is investigating whether doctors at Lewis-McChord's Madigan Army Medical Center were urged to consider the cost of providing benefits when reviewing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most famously, four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted in the deliberate thrill killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes called it "the most troubled base in the military" that year.

NBC station King 5 and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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