From the beginning, friends of Lt. Col. Robert Underwood tried to say he was innocent, that he was "venting" at his girlfriend and estranged wife as he slogged through a tough divorce and child-custody battle. That didn't stop police from arresting him, prosecutors from charging him, and headlines from indicting him and his fort, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The already "troubled base" was now home to an officer who supposedly tried to hire a hit man and, most spectacularly, blow up the state capitol.
If you search for "Robert Underwood blow up capitol," what Googles forth are 68,700 results, starting with display of the March news reports from across the globe about the officer's alleged plan to bomb the Olympia state house.
It isn't until the third and fourth web pages that we see the first of the less prominent Friday reports appear - one from KOMO-TV and another from KING-TV/AP - revealing that Pierce County prosecutors had dropped all charges against Underwood last week.
Update:Since this story was posted, it currently comes back as the second entry under that Google request.
A more complete Seattle Times story, compiled from the News Tribune, the AP and archives, did not surface on those first pages of searching. But as the Times reported:
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office dropped the three felony harassment charges filed in March against Lt. Col. Robert E. Underwood because of evidence suggesting the woman who reported the threats to authorities might have made it all up.
Underwood has maintained his innocence since his arrest in March, arguing the woman, Serena Kiptoo, made up stories about him when he rejected her romantic advances.
Kiptoo had claimed she and Underwood were in a relationship, something Underwood denied. Prosecutors filed paperwork Friday afternoon saying they'd lost faith in the credibility of Kiptoo, who was the main witness against Underwood.
Kiptoo had told police that Underwood, 46, threatened to kill her after she confronted him about a naked photograph of his daughter on his laptop computer, the story said. She also reported he claimed to have paid a hit man $150,000 to kill his wife and his superior officer.
But a search of Underwood's computer turned up no such photo of his daughter and messages Kiptoo left on Underwood's phone (that she was going to "get him,") suggested she had a motive to fabricate the allegations.
Unfortunately, the Times story, like most others Friday, failed to mention the state capitol bomb threat, apparently because the AP left it out of its story - even though that stunning detail was in the lead of the March AP story, and likely the reason it drew headlines around the world.
Thus, someone looking for "Underwood...bomb threat" would be less likely to find the subsequent story of dropped charges. The latest AP report also emphasized that the charges amounted to "harassment," a benign word that found its way into many of Friday's headlines.
Underwood, said his attorney Phil Thornton, is "very unhappy with the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office and with the Steilacoom Police Department for failing to investigate these allegations before charges were filed."
He didn't comment on the media or their reporting. But, in a roundabout way, someone else did.
The girlfriend is a woman who "wants to be his girlfriend" and she accessed his computer and together the wife and this woman are working their snare. Bob gave his kids celphones to keep in touch and she intercepted. Its just venting. After All Kara's work with divorce court and alimony, he has hardly enough to support his own living. He has no $150,000.... She has poisoned his commanding officer, the police and now all you who believe this frame-up...This is a remarkable man a war hero who just wants to be able to be a part of his kids lives. That is the reason for all of this! Stand up and demand truth. The media throws out anything to get attention. And they can print anything and destroy a persons life. It can happen to any one of us.
Those words appeared back in March, too, under one of those bomb-the-capitol headlines.
But they aren't from a news report about Underwood. They're from someone's anonymous comment about the news report.
Of the two, it turns out, the comment was the one with the most news.