By Natalie Morales
NBC News
updated 7/17/2007 6:56:16 AM ET 2007-07-17T10:56:16

Originally aired Dateline NBC on July 16, 2007.

One image said it all.

His head was in his hands, his hands were in cuffs, and his wedding ring was in place.

He was a man accused, dissolved in tears.

And recently, on a warm afternoon, in the gently rolling hills of east Tennessee, there he was.

A solitary figure.

Looking at him as he worked in the fields, you might not ever imagine what he'd been through, what he did, and what he was about to face.

But a killing has sent a chill through the warmth of the Tennessee spring.

And from the countryside, to a nearby high school, to a major university, to a close-knit Knoxville neighborhood, it's a murder case that no one around here can put out of their minds:

Geneva Dyer [neighbor]: "I remember coming home from a birthday party. Hadn't been home but a few minutes when I heard a gunshot.
Natalie Morales [Dateline Correspondent]: You knew immediately it was a gunshot?
Geneva Dyer: Yes.

This is the story of a community shattered, families ripped apart, and a secret relationship -- a bond that ended with a rifle blast that echoed though this quiet neighborhood.

The saga begins in a much less tragic way, with a story of young love and a happy couple who had big dreams and wanted to raise a family. 

Tamara and Brian Mulkey were friends and neighbors of the couple for years.

Tamara Mulkey: Eric and Erin were extremely motivated people.  And they were really looking to get that all-American family, just right there, and they weren't going to let anything stop them.

The husband, Eric McLean, was born in 1975 and grew up in and around Knoxville in a deeply religious family. His parents, Norman and Tanya McLean, say he was carefree and outgoing.

Tanya McLean: He was always smiling.  He had these long dimples and was … just so much fun to be around. He never saw a stranger. Never.

As Eric grew, he developed a passion for music. A talented drummer, he wanted to teach high school music and be a band director.

Brian Mulkey:  Music, and to teach music, and music, it was everything to him.

It was everything, that is, until the age of 18 when he met a 16-year-old girl named Erin Myers.

She, too, wanted to be a teacher.
Erin was into drama, theater, and literature.  Friends remember a free spirit, a nonconformist, who was also a gifted student. 

Tamara Mulkey: Vibrant, intelligent, well-spoken, well read.  She was just the all-around perfect girl.

Although Eric's parents didn't know her very well at the time, they admired her obvious intelligence.

Tanya McLean: Very, very smart. But she was pleasant.

Norman McLean: She seemed like a nice enough girl.

It was obvious Eric and Erin were in a hurry to get started in life. Though barely out of high school, they decided to live together, and even saved enough to buy a house.  And to Eric's parents, Erin seemed determined to make the relationship work.

Tanya McLean: He was her life. He really was her life.

About two years after their first date, when Eric was 21, and Erin was 18, she became pregnant. 

They had a baby boy named Eric, Jr., and soon after they got married.

Tanya McLean: They decided it was best. They loved each other. And they wanted to create a family.
Natalie Morales: Did you have a good father-in-law, mother-in-law relationship with Erin?
Norman McLean: Eric was real close with the family. But she was a little bit distant from us. And even when she'd come back, she would sort of hang off and stay by herself more.

But Eric and Erin's marriage seemed strong.

Tamara Mulkey: In the beginning they were like every perfect married couple, loving and attentive towards each other, and just a lot of fun to watch. And I know that sounds silly, but they were in love, and you could see it wherever they went.

Eric was so dedicated to Erin that he put his education on hold and worked several jobs to put his wife through a masters program in English literature.

Tamara Mulkey: Eric did put his life on hold.  He was dedicated to his family and he wanted his wife happy … and wanted to make sure she was happy and then at that point, then, to take care of himself.  But it didn't get to that point for him.

But even though Erin and Eric had been struggling financially, another son, Ian, was born. 

By last fall, Erin and Eric could no longer be called young people in a hurry.  By then, they'd been married ten years, and were among the older students in their courses.

Eric, then 31, no longer deferred his dreams and was finally studying to be a music and band teacher.  Erin, 29, was getting another masters degree, in education, and was about to start a student teacher assignment at Knoxville's West High School. 

But there was trouble on the way and by late last year, in their house on Coker Ave., there were signs something was amiss.

Tamara Mulkey: Almost as if she were sad, or just kind of missing; there physically, but maybe not emotionally.

Norman McLean: I thought maybe they were just under pressure from school and work and everything.  That the tension and the pressure was getting to them. And I tried to encourage them to try to work things out. You know, I had no idea what all was going on in the background.

If Eric's father knew it, he might not have believed it.

Knoxville, Tennessee.   Fall, 2006.

Erin and Eric McLean and their two sons seemed the picture of the all-American family. But looking back, friends wish they had known the truth.

Tamara Mulkey [neighbor]: I guess if walls could talk...

At the time, Eric was studying to be a band director and music teacher. He was working several jobs to make ends meet, including delivering pizzas and driving a taxi.

Tanya McLean [Eric's mother]: He would take his books and study while he was on down time. And then he would get the boys ready for school … come home, get the boys from school, sleep a couple of hours before going through the same routine again.

Erin McLean was also working hard. 

As part of the requirements for her teaching degree, she began an internship as an assistant student teacher at Knoxville's West High School. It was an important step on the path to becoming an educator.

Shilo Jines was a student at West High.

Jines: I had heard that she was a cool person.  That she was kind of young and kind of an interesting person.  Different. She, somebody told me they met her at a peace rally...

Shiloh Jines and some of the other kids at West High had heard this student teacher was a kindred spirit who understood her students -- and old friends agreed.

Tamara Mulkey: She was such a vibrant person I can imagine she was a wonderful teacher.

Eric's parents could see that Erin was devoted to her work.

Still, they were surprised when Eric made a request about one of Erin's students that seemed to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Tanya McLean: And he said, "Mom, I know this might seem like a strange request.  But, there's a student of Erin's and he got kicked out of his house.  And I was wondering if he could come and stay with y'all"   … And I said something to my older son who was down for Sunday dinner, and he said, "There's too much of this teacher stuff going on that would look real bad, you know?"  He said, "She should not be that friendly with-- with a student."

The student never did move in, and over on Coker Ave. nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Tamara Mulkey: From the outside, their careers were in full swing ... I mean Erin was in the process of becoming a teacher, and Eric was well on his way to becoming a music instructor, and from the outside everything seemed perfect. And I think that's why we were all just so blindsided by this.

It was Saturday, March 10, just before 9:00 p.m. when Eric McLean placed a call to 911.

(From 911 call transcript)
Eric McLean: Hello. I have an intruder in the house.
911 operator: Where are you?
Eric McLean: 2424 Coker Avenue.

911 operator: You have an intruder in your house? What do you mean by an intruder?
Eric McLean: Trespasser.
911 operator: Do you know this person?
Eric McLean: Yes.
911 operator: Ok, who is it?
Eric McLean: Some guy who's stalking my wife. He's been sleeping outside our house for the past couple of days.
911 operator: What's he wearing?
Eric McLean: Shorts, a red shirt, sandals.

But after a few moments the call changed tone.

Eric McLean: "Now he's leaving."
911 operator: "Okay, do you want to speak to an officer?"
Eric McLean: "Oh, no. He's leaving now."

Whatever was going on seemed to end. But seven minutes later there was another 911 call and this time it was Erin on the line.

911 operator: 911.
Erin McLean: My husband just killed someone.
911 operator: What's the address, ma'am?
Erin McLean: 2424 Coker.
911 operator: Is he there with you right now?
Erin McLean: No, but the body's here.
911 operator: How did he do it?
Erin McLean: He shot him with a shotgun. Please come! Hurry! Hurry!
911 operator: Stay on the line, please. Don't hang up.
Erin McLean: Oh, my god. Oh, my god!

When police arrived the "intruder" was dead and Eric McLean was gone.

Eric's family learned the news on TV that night.

Tanya McLean: And it just hit me, and I went and my oldest son was spending the night. And I woke him up and I said "Scott, Scott, I think Eric's killed somebody." (crying) You know.  And he said "No, mom."  He said "Don't even be talking like that. Eric will never hurt any one." You just cannot imagine in your wildest nightmare what would go through, you know, the emotion that you felt at that time.  It's like the whole world just came crashing down and you're just smashed right into the ground.

With Eric on the run, police began piecing together what happened that night. Before long it became clear this so-called intruder, this marriage, and this student teacher were not what they had seemed to be.

Brian Mulkey: I still can't kind of describe the shock I felt when I found out what happened. Because there was obviously a lot more wrong there than any of us knew.

On a cool Saturday evening last March, the calm of a Knoxville neighborhood was shattered by a gun shot.

Erin McLean: My husband just killed someone!
911 operator: Is he there with you right now?
Erin McLean: No, but the body's here.

It was a wife's panicked cry for help.

Erin McLean: Oh my god! Oh my god!

Seconds earlier, a well-regarded husband and father, Eric McLean, had fired a single shot into the head of young man he'd described as an intruder on a 911 call.

Then he took off, leaving his wife Erin behind with a lifeless victim.

Erin McLean: Will you please come save him?
911 operator: Ma'am, they're already on the way.

But nothing prepared the community for what it would soon learn about the circumstances leading up to the killing.

The first hint of scandal was contained in Erin McLean's frantic call to 911.

911 operator: How do you know Sean?
Erin McLean: He used to be one of my students.

The victim was 18-year-old Sean Powell, and it would turn out Sean was no stranger to the occupants of 2424 Coker Ave. 
Sean Powell was born in 1988 to a single mom. He spent his early childhood in a loving home. He spent his first Christmas in a Santa outfit. His great grandmother was also a best friend.

But his mother had legal and financial troubles.  When he was six, she gave him up for adoption.

In Knoxville, Sean found a new life with another family -- the Powells -- and thought his birth mother had passed away.

But Debra Flynn searched for him, and when Sean was 17 they reunited.

Debra Flynn: Sean came down and grabbed me and hugged me and started crying. And he said, "Mom, I thought you were dead."
Natalie Morales: And what was life like when you reconnected with him? Did he tell you about any troubles in his life, tell you anything that was going on?
Debra Flynn: No, he just was happy.

Like many teenagers he liked to party to ride all terrain vehicles and to be on the athletic field.

Shilo Jines: Not to mention he played rugby but was poetic, too.

Shilo Jines dated Sean for a time last year. She says his passion for the arts -- for life -- was impossible to miss.

Shilo Jines: When you would look at him he would have fire in his eyes, he wanted to live his life to the absolute fullest, just every bit of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, everything … He wanted to just feel it.

At Knoxville's West High School, though, Sean had a reputation as a troubled student. He drank, smoked and was confrontational. In a class at West High last fall, he first met a student teacher.

Natalie Morales: When Sean was at West High School, did he ever tell you anything about an assistant teacher named Erin McLean?
Debra Flynn: No. Never.

Sean may have kept quiet about knowing his student teacher, but those who knew him say he bonded with Erin McLean right away over their shared interests in drama and poetry.

Shilo Jines: He was really intellectual and wanted to just experience and know about all he could … So she was really interested in things like him, so I could understand.

But Sean's days in Erin's classroom would soon come to an end. In October of last year, Sean Powell was expelled from West High just as he was turning 18.

So as he entered adulthood, he also seemed to enter a downward spiral.

Shilo Jines: Everybody had sort of worried about him just knowing that a lot of the time he threw caution to the wind. They'd always worried about him, but never, never could believe that something so absolutely awful would happen like this.

He spent several weeks in an alcohol rehab program and then told people he was kicked out of his home. The Powells deny that. Not many people were able to understand or help him, but Sean Powell thought he knew somebody who could.

Much of what happened is still very unclear, and as you'll see,  a Matter of he-said, she-said.  What is clear is that by last winter, 29-year-old Erin McLean and 18-year-old Sean Powell had begun a close relationship that only grew closer over time.  Erin McLean isn't talking. But it seems that over the next several weeks, that relationship became sexual in nature.

Around that time his former girlfriend, who stayed close to him, noticed a big change in Sean.

Shiloh Jines: Around January there was something different about him, it was different than the person I had met.

Whatever was going on, few seemed to know Sean Powell was involved with a former teacher.

Sean Powell's adoptive mother, Scarlett Powell, later gave a statement to the local newspaper saying she thought Sean's girlfriend was about 20 years old and a part-time student at a local community college. The name she had heard was Erin Myers -- Erin McLean's maiden name.

But looking back, Sean's birth mother says there were signs that something unusual was going on.

Debra Flynn: He wouldn't let me answer the phone. And I said, "Why not?"  and he said "Well, it's my girlfriend."  And I said, "Well, so?" and I had seen her number on my cell phone.  And he said, "Well, mom, she works at the school." And that's all. He wouldn't talk to me about it.

She did see messages from the girlfriend to Sean. "I love you," one said.  "Come home," said another.  Debra Flynn didn't pay much attention to them.

But two weeks later, that mysterious girlfriend placed a call to Debra Flynn's phone.  She said her name was Erin McLean and that she had some terrible news.

Sean was dead.

Debra Flynn: I said, "Who shot him?" She said, "This pyschopath" and I said, "Who's the pyschopath?" She said, "Eric" and I said "Who is Eric?" She said, "my husband."
Natalie Morales: Did you have any idea that Erin McLean was his former assistant teacher?
Debra Flynn: I had absolutely no idea.

Immediately after the shooting the story became a media sensation. A husband kills his wife's former student, her lover.

Tamara Mulkey: It was the shock of the century, because people like Eric you would never imagine them getting that point, ever.

Eric McLean was finally taken into custody the morning after the shooting.  He surrendered to police after dropping the rifle on railroad tracks outside of town.

He was charged with first-degree murder.

Erin McLean went to Nashville with her two sons. Then, a few days later, there was another call to 911.

Caller: A woman was, is attempting to commit suicide, she's taken pills, she's about to expire.

Erin McLean was apparently so distraught by the killing that a few days later she attempted suicide with non-prescription drugs at her mother's home in Nashville.

Then, some of the questions swirling around the case would be answered inside the Knox County Jail.

Just 10 days after Sean Powell's killing, Eric McLean sat down for a dramatic interview with Today's Matt Lauer:

Matt Lauer [co-host of "Today"]: And I'll ask you point blank: Did you shoot Sean Powell?
Eric McLean: Yes.

Lauer: You knew that she was having an affair?
McLean: I mean, I mean I pretty much knew. I think I was just, like, in denial for a long time, you know?
Lauer: Why not leave? Why not leave her?
McLean: I don't know. I just couldn't leave her.
Lauer: Explain that. Why not?
McLean: Because I love her!

But as you'll find out, that interview was just the beginning of what Eric McLean had to say about his marriage, his wife's secret affair, and what led up to that terrible night at 2424 Coker Ave.  

Now out on bail and working on a farm, Eric McLean's fate will soon be in the hands of a jury.

He's charged in the killing of 18-year-old Sean Powell, the boyfriend and former student of McLean's wife, Erin.

He admitted -- on national television, no less -- that he had shot Powell while the teenager sat in a car outside the McLean's home. But he says he's no murderer.

Eric McLean: (crying) I just feel really bad about the whole thing.

When we sat down with Eric McLean again, two months after the killing, he continued to insist that if the whole story was known, he wouldn't be seen as cold-blooded killer.

He said you have to go back to the beginning.

Natalie Morales: How was your marriage early on?
Eric McLean: It was fine.  It was great.  But -- I mean, we had problems. Mainly just financial problems, but things were great.  We spent a lot of time together and we bought a house, actually before we got married we bought a house.  And so we started, you know, gardening and raise…
Natalie Morales: Raising your family?
Eric McLean: Yes, raising a family and all of that.

But in the last few years, facing the pressures of raising two young sons, family finances, and her graduate study, Eric McLean says Erin began to change.

Having a child at 18, he says, made her feel she had missed out on the best part of her life.

Eric McLean: She just felt like she had lost her youth. And so she blamed me for that. And blamed little Eric for that. It's like we made these decisions together to start a family.

And he says that over the years Erin's frustration would occasionally erupt into outbursts of violence.

Eric McLean: Where I just sometimes would wake up and -- and she was sittin' on top of me just hitting me.  I was asleep in bed.  She just--
Natalie Morales: She physically abused you?
Eric McLean: Yes. And then I remember going to work and they were asking me what happened because I had a black eye. 

About three months before the shooting, Eric began to suspect there was more going on in his wife's life than he knew.

They were at a party and he saw her dial her voicemail.

Eric McLean: And I was just joking around and I told her, "Oh, I saw your password. I know what it is." Because she'd been really secretive about things around this time. When we got home from the party she just went off and started yelling at me and, you know, telling me "You haven't been close to me in a while."  And you can't just, you know, think that you can be involved like that and get in my business like that. And she was just yelling at the top of her lungs. She just told me, "I don't care. You can have the kids, the house, the whole estate. I want my freedom."

Natalie Morales: Is that the first time, though, that she verbalized that she wasn't into this marriage anymore?
Eric McLean: Like that. Where she said that she didn't want anything.  She didn't want the family or anything anymore.
Natalie Morales: Did she ever tell you, 'I don't love you anymore?'
Eric McLean: Uh-huh...
Natalie Morales: How often would you hear that?
Eric McLean: Just when she would have those outbursts and attack me.

That same month the couple had another troubling conversation.

Natalie Morales: What did she tell you?
Eric McLean: She told me that she was thinking about having affairs.
Natalie Morales: And what was your response when she told you that?
Eric McLean: I was just in shock.  Kind of like, "Why are you saying these things and why are you doing these things?"  And she said, "Well, I feel sorry for you because I guess it's because of your Christian upbringing you think that marriage has to be forever."

Around this time Eric noticed that Erin was spending more and more time with a former student named Sean Powell. They spent long hours talking about literature, poetry, music. 

Eric McLean had met the 18-year-old a few weeks earlier when he helped find him a place to live.

At first, Eric thought Sean was just a troubled kid his wife was trying to help.

But his suspicions soon deepened.

Natalie Morales: When did you realize that she was having an extramarital affair with Sean Powell?
Eric McLean: Well, she would tell me things when she was drunk that she wouldn't tell me when she was sober … in a way she admitted it to me at the end of January. But then when she was sober she would deny it.  And I wanted to believe the sober Erin. 

Natalie Morales: Neighbors of yours have said that you would actually go out to dinner with Sean Powell in tow.  You, Erin and Sean.  Why would you let that happen?
Eric McLean: We went out to eat one day after -- early on. This was probably Jan. 5 or 6. I mean,  I suspected things but I didn't know.

Knowing his marriage was in jeopardy and not wanting a divorce, Eric McLean says he just put up with the unusual friendship.

He says he became depressed and sought professional help.

Eric McLean: I didn't feel like I could do anything anymore.  Kind of like I had to force myself to do everything at this point.  Before it -- I kind of had like things coordinated where I could work things out and had almost like a schedule I could follow.  But it was just getting -- some days I just couldn't even get out of bed at all.  And I'd been -- you know.  I don't know.  Every week I started going to the psychologist and psychiatrist every single week.  But nothing ever got better.
Natalie Morales: And she wasn't getting any help as far as you knew?
Eric McLean: No, she wasn't getting any help.

All the while, he says, he was worrying about the toll the situation was taking on their children.

Natalie Morales: What was her relationship at that point like with the kids?
Eric McLean: She treated little Eric horribly.  Just verbally abused him all the time.  But she treated Ian better, but still just neglected both of them.  She just-- basically when she'd get home from work she'd just sit in the bathtub all day drinking whiskey and talking on the phone.
Natalie Morales: Was she talking on the phone with this 18-year-old?
Eric McLean: I guess so.
Natalie Morales: So this time in your life … how would you describe the emotions that you were feeling on a daily basis with her?
Eric McLean: I felt like my entire world was falling apart.  My family was falling apart. I can't even trust her to be around my kids anymore.

In fact, he says his 11-year-old finally confirmed his suspicions about his wife's relationship with Sean Powell.

Eric McLean: He said, "Mom was holding hands with Sean and kissing him and stuff."  And I said, "And how did that make you feel?" and he said, "Grossed out."  And as soon as--
Natalie Morales: How did that make you feel though?
Eric McLean: That made me feel really, really upset.

He says that was a turning point and he began to crack under the pressure.  That same day, Erin asked him to scold the child for being disrespectful.

Eric McLean: She said, "Well, why is he talking to me like this?"  and I said, "Well, probably because he thinks his mom's a whore." I didn't know what to do.  I was just so upset.
Natalie Morales: But yet you stuck by her for another month or so.  You stuck around.  Were you trying to help her?
Eric McLean: Uh-huh.
Natalie Morales: Did you think she would come around?
Eric McLean: I thought she would eventually.

But while Eric McLean still finds it too painful to talk about, friends say he told them he actually witnessed his wife's infidelity with Sean Powell.

Brian Mulkey: He just said he walked in, and they were in the bedroom, and he just turned around and walked out.

By March 9, the night before the killing, the situation at the McLeans' home on Coker Ave. in Knoxville had gone from bad to worse. 

Erin and Sean Powell went to see a play and Sean ended up sleeping over on a couch.

Eric McLean: (emotional) I think just everything when it falls apart … just totally falls apart.

On Saturday, March 10, Eric McLean shot and killed Sean Powell, his wife's former student and 18-year-old lover.

Natalie Morales: How often do you think about Sean Powell?
Eric McLean: I think about him a lot. I'm just really sorry about it. All of this. But I never wanted any of this stuff to happen.

No one involved in the fatal incident that night has given all the details about what happened -- including Eric McLean, whose attorney would not let him talk about the shooting itself. 

But after the shooting investigators pieced together clues.

Jamie Satterfield covered the case for the Knoxville News Sentinel and has seen key pieces of evidence.

Jamie Satterfield: Sean goes outside.  The evidence has suggested that he went outside, he got in his vehicle, he lit a cigarette, and he's sitting there.  And Eric goes out to his vehicle gets the rifle--
Natalie Morales: This is according to the evidence again.
Jamie Satterfield: Yes. And this -- this is the testimony from the investigator -- gets the rifle, and then fires it.  Um, and according to -- the medical examiner, what she classified as a defensive wound on his hand, cigarette still in--
Natalie Morales: Meaning he was--
Jamie Satterfield: Yeah.  That he would have reacted.
Natalie Morales: And he was not armed.
Jamie Satterfield: He was not armed.

Whether Eric McLean shot Sean Powell is not in dispute. He admitted it to Matt Lauer.

But right from the start, Eric McLean insisted it was not intentional.

Matt Lauer: Was this an accident?
Eric McLean: Yes!

Though he wouldn't provide details, Eric McLean's attorney, Bruce Poston, says he will prove the killing was unintentional.

Natalie Morales: It's an accident. Is that what you're saying?
Bruce Poston: I didn't say that. Those were Eric's words. But remember, they weren't just in the Matt Lauer interview. Those were the same words he gave to police in his statement. So that's twice he said the same thing.

Prosecutors didn't buy the accident theory.

Shortly after the shooting, police charged Eric McLean with first-degree murder, alleging Eric had planned the murder when he bought the rifle.

Natalie Morales: Why would Eric have a gun?
Bruce Poston: There's a lot of reasons people would have a gun … The state, they will claim he had it for at least 2 weeks, right? Well, why wasn't Sean Powell dead 2 weeks before? So clearly, he didn't get the rifle to shoot Sean Powell.

In late April, a grand jury indicted McLean for the lesser charge of second-degree murder. That means no pre-meditation. Now the most McLean can get is 25 years in prison.

Poston: They looked at the evidence and said no. The most we're going to let you try for is second. That was both a shock and -- and just a wonderful, wonderful surprise.
Natalie Morales: And how does this change the case?
Bruce Poston: It changes it dramatically.  This totally changes how this case is going to unfold. And it's much to Eric's benefit.

Jamie Satterfield: It puts the defense in a really strong position.  Because they're no longer trying to convince a jury that it wasn't premeditated.  Now they can really hone in on this notion that it's a crime of passion.
Natalie Morales: So what can we expect when it comes to a trial?  And how will this play out, in your view?
Jamie Satterfield: What you're going to see is a very pathetic-looking Eric McLean.  He's going to be teary-eyed the entire time. But sympathy doesn't cut it in the end when they're back there deliberating and looking at evidence.  And the evidence in this case is horrific.  The wound that he suffered his horrific.

Eric McLean's trial is now expected to begin next January. In an arraignment last month McLean's attorney said, simply, "It is going to be a war." And among the objects of his assault: Erin McLean and Sean Powell.

Natalie Morales: People are going to say, "How dare you blame the victim?"
Bruce Poston: I'm not going to blame the victim. I'm presenting evidence and the jury will come to their own conclusions.

Natalie Morales: You talk to anyone around town and you talk to the neighbors and everybody has an opinion about this already. And it's very unfavorable towards Erin. And it appears your legal tactic would be to make her out to be the villain.
Bruce Poston: I'm not going to try to make her out to be the villain.  She is the villain.

In March, Eric McLean shot and killed Sean Powell, an 18-year-old former student of McLean's wife, Erin. 

The events leading up to the murder begin with a seemingly calm Eric McLean calling 911 to report an intruder.

911 operator: Do you know this person?
Eric McLean: Yes.
911 operator: Ok, who is it?
Eric McLean: Some guy who's stalking my wife.

Prosecutors and the defense agree on one major point. There was a crucial seven minute interval between Eric McLean's phone call to 911 and the shot that killed Sean Powell. It's these critical seven minutes that could end up deciding the case -- and Eric McLean's fate.

Some observers say Erin McLean's testimony about the night of the shooting will hold the key to what happens to her husband. Jamie Satterfield has been covering the story for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Jamie Satterfield: Did she taunt him?  Did she tell him, "There's no way, you know, I'm ever going to reconcile with you, and we're going to move to Tahiti with the kids and bye-bye," and then he went nuts? 

Whatever happened, Erin McLean has not been charged with any wrong-doing.

She declined Dateline's request for an interview, but her attorney, Gary Blackburn, shared some information about her version of events, beginning with her take on life with Eric.

Blackburn: There was no marriage. Erin and Eric rarely saw each other.  Erin worked a full shift after being in class during the day, and then was in a band. Would come home routinely at three in the morning. The two of them had a classic loveless marriage.

Blackburn says that Erin's loneliness, coupled with the compassion she felt for Sean's troubles at home and school, were a powerful combination.

Gary Blackburn: He was a very, very troubled young man and very bright. And she knew these things and felt sorry for him … And she was lonely.  Extremely lonely.  And very vulnerable to the attentions of a young man who shared her interests and seemed interested in her. 

Blackburn says the sexual relationship only began months after Sean Powell was expelled from West High. But then, by last winter, Sean Powell became a regular visitor to the McLean home.

Blackburn: Over a period of time, it became an intolerable situation …  as it inevitably would have.

As for what went on during the seven minute gap between 911 calls, Blackburn says Erin doesn't know that much because she was in the house when the fatal shot ran out.

Gary Blackburn: Sean made provocative statements of some kind to Eric … Remember -- Erin was in the house.  Sean was in his car.  The only one out there on foot holding a weapon was the man who's under indictment.

Blackburn says Erin heard the shot and then ran outside.

Gary Blackburn: Erin came outdoors and saw Eric standing there behind the vehicle, holding the rifle. And he looked at her and said, "Congratulations."

Erin McLean's attorney paints a far different portrait of the McLean marriage than Eric does.

Blackburn provided Dateline with letters and cards from Eric, written before the shooting, that appear to show he was abusive to her. "I love you and I'm sorry for the way I've mistreated you," one says. "Please forgive me in time."

Through her attorney, she claims Eric abused alcohol and had psychological problems. Erin denies Eric's claims that she was drinking heavily or abused him.

And her attorney strongly denies Erin ever neglected or abused their children.

Gary Blackburn [Erin McLean's attorney]: The notion that Erin McLean abused her children is completely false.  The Tennessee Department of Children's Services has been here to Nashville, have interviewed the boys privately, and have closed any investigation.

Erin McLean and her two boys are still living in the Nashville area.  

Her attorney says she deserves a second chance.

Gary Blackburn: Erin very much regrets everything that's happened.  She understands that she's made some mistakes.  She's made some bad choices.  All of us passing through this world make mistakes and make bad choices.  Usually, we get through them without a major tragedy.  She did not.

Sean Powell's birth mother, Debra Flynn, says it will be difficult to ever forgive Erin McLean.

Debra Flynn: I said, "You preyed on my son," and she said, "No I didn't, I loved him.  He asked me to marry him, and I was going to marry him."

Marry him? Erin McLean isn't talking. But Debra Flynn reserves her deepest anger for the man who fired the gun: Eric McLean.

Debra Flynn: Sean was defenseless.  He murdered my son, execution style, flat out. The detective said he had never seen that much brain matter in his life. I couldn't kiss my son goodbye.
Natalie Morales: You wanted to kiss him goodbye?
Debra Flynn: Yes, and I couldn't because he had no face.

Friends, meanwhile, are still stunned.

Tamara Mulkey: We never, never could have imagined that anything like this could have happened.

Natalie Morales: I see you're still wearing your wedding band.  Why?
Eric McLean: I still love her, but I know we can't be together anymore.  You know?
Natalie Morales: You do still love her, though?  After all of this?
Eric McLean: Well, I just can't talk to her anymore … She's just not the person I thought she was.  You know?  So it seems like I've been in love with somebody who doesn't even exist anyway.

It appears the marriage itself may not exist much longer: In the past week, Eric McLean's lawyer told us that Eric is planning to file for divorce from Erin.

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