Jury convicts Austin man in 2015 murder of retired IBM executive

5:45 p.m Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 Local
Irwin Pentland listens to opening arguments at his murder trial at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on Nov. 28. He was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the 2015 murder of Phillip Liberty. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A Travis County jury convicted Irwin “Ernie” Pentland of capital murder in the 2015 slaying of a retired IBM executive Wednesday.

The verdict came after four hours of deliberations, putting an end to the weeklong trial in which jurors heard testimony about the death of 75-year-old Phillip Liberty, whose body was found by police in the garage of his three-story home in Austin’s Northwest Hills.

Pentland was sentenced to life without parole.

Clad in a black suit and a blue shirt with an open collar, Pentland showed little reaction as state District Judge Tamara Needles read the jury’s verdict and announced Pentland’s sentence.

Pentland’s demeanor was in contrast with the tears that streamed down the faces of some of Liberty’s friends and family, who packed into the courtroom to hear Wednesday’s verdict. He shook his head and occasionally glanced away as his daughter Anne and Liberty’s ex-wife, Spring, read statements condemning him.

“There’s something wrong with you,” Anne Pentland told the court after her father’s sentencing, her voice cracking with emotion. “I don’t think you’ll ever realize the pain that you caused.”

She added: “I’m not even 20 yet, I’ve been through things — so many of us have been through things that we should not have had to go through because of you.”

Irwin Pentland’s attorney, Jeff Senter, said his client plans to appeal.

The jury’s decision comes two years after police responding to a welfare call found Liberty dead, shot through his right eye at his house on Nov. 19, 2015.

During their opening statements, prosecutors portrayed Pentland as a conman desperate for money.

Three decades apart in age, the two men had met in a support group years earlier and became close friends. That relationship was at the center of prosecutors’ case as it provided them with a motive to explain the crime. They argued that Pentland forged and cashed at least $20,000 in checks from Liberty’s accounts in the days just before and after the shooting. However, prosecutors admitted it was unknown if Liberty knew of the theft at the time of his death.

In his opening statements, Senter highlighted the circumstantial nature of the prosecution’s case.

“The evidence will show there’s not going to be a weapon; the evidence will show there’s not going to be a witness,” Senter said. “There’s not going to be a confession.”

Police zeroed in on Pentland as their prime suspect after he offered a series of seemingly conflicting statements about why he had picked up Liberty’s grandson from day care the day before police found Liberty’s body.

Pentland — who was not listed as one of the toddler’s approved guardians — took the child to an empty South Austin house that Pentland’s mother owned, miles from his grandfather’s home. He initially told police he did it to hide the child from his wife.

Austin police initially charged Pentland with child endangerment in December 2015 before charging him with Liberty’s homicide a month later.

Liberty’s grandson “lost his innocence at age 2,” Spring Liberty told the court Tuesday. “He says, ‘Grandpa is in my heart.’”

View full experience