Friend of retired IBM exec Phillip Liberty charged with his murder

Updated Jan 20, 2016

Forged checks, taped conversations, intercepted mail and a hidden laptop led police to file murder charges against a South Austin man in the November shooting death of retired IBM executive Phillip Liberty.

Austin homicide Lt. Justin Newsom described an “exhaustive” investigation in which police uncovered more than $20,000 in forged checks from Liberty’s bank accounts that suspect Irwin “Ernie” Pentland cashed in the days leading up to and after the discovery of Liberty’s body inside his home in a Northwest Austin gated community.

“It appears, based on their history and the evidence that homicide detectives have found, that this was a thought-out, somewhat organized scheme by Mr. Pentland to commit this murder for the sole purpose of profiting financially,” Newsom said Tuesday.

Police zeroed in on a laptop that investigators believe Pentland and his associates worked to conceal, using oblique references in communications to and from the Travis County Jail, where Pentland has been in custody since Dec. 2. So far, police are not investigating any of Pentland’s associates, including his wife and his mother, for any connection to Liberty’s death.

Investigators eventually found the laptop in the house of a friend of Pentland’s. Police found a copy of Liberty’s will, notes on Pentland’s interactions with Liberty the day before he was found dead, and evidence that Pentland was researching how to build an AR pistol and suppressor, and that Pentland had purchased a barrel for an AR-style weapon, an arrest affidavit said.

Police would not say if they had recovered a weapon.

The affidavit revealed details from the investigation, including how officers found blood pooling in the driveway of Liberty’s home on Las Ventanas Drive before forcing their way into the garage, where they found Liberty and evidence of an aborted attempt to move him into the trunk of his Mercedes.

Pentland has been the prime suspect in Liberty’s death and was jailed Dec. 2, when police charged him with endangering a child after he left Liberty’s grandson alone in a home for hours.

Inconsistencies with Pentland’s account of why he had picked up Liberty’s grandson from a day care center led police to suspect him in Liberty’s death, police had said.

Investigators said that Pentland, 46, and Liberty, 75, were friends. Police documents said they met at a support group about seven years ago.

Before he was arrested, Pentland told police he met with Liberty at Liberty’s home the day before he was found dead. Pentland told police that during that meeting, Liberty asked him to pick up his toddler grandson from day care. Liberty was the primary caregiver for the child, police said.

Despite not being on the list of people authorized to pick up the child, a staff member at the day care allowed Pentland to take the boy when he produced a cellphone photo of him and the child, officials said.

Pentland, who has a criminal history that includes being charged with felony robbery, told police he hid the boy from his wife by leaving the child at an empty house where Pentland’s mother lived. The next day, he returned the child to the day care center, police said.