Husband accused in slaying says, 'I was in denial'

Associated Press • Mar 22, 2007 at 1:12 AM

KNOXVILLE - A man accused of killing a teenage student over an affair with his teacher wife said Wednesday he had been in denial about the relationship "for a long time."

Eric McLean, 31, told NBC's "Today Show" in a jailhouse interview to be aired this morning that he "never had any suspicions" about his wife of 11 years - Erin McLean, a student-teacher at West High School and mother of their two young sons.

"We'd share e-mail accounts," he said in an excerpt of the interview broadcast by NBC affiliate WBIR-TV. "We didn't keep secrets from each other at all."

But NBC's Matt Lauer, who flew to Knoxville Wednesday for the hearing and interview, pressed him on whether he knew she was having an affair.

"I pretty much knew," McLean said. "I think I was just in denial for a long time, you know."

McLean is charged with first-degree murder in the March 10 shooting death of Sean Powell, 18, a former West High student who met Erin McLean last fall during her teaching internship.

General Sessions Judge Bob McGee agreed Wednesday to allow the NBC interview over prosecutors' objections that it could prejudice a jury pool. Defense attorney Bruce Poston argued for the interview, saying it would be the only one he would allow before trial. Poston later told print journalists that a TV interview was preferred because "you can't print tears." Court affidavits obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday said McLean gave police a statement after his arrest March 11. McLean surrendered to a police officer who approached him walking along railroad tracks some six miles from the high school. McLean identified a rifle near the tracks as the murder weapon.

"McLean stated that he had learned of an adulterous affair between his wife and the victim several weeks prior to the murder," Knoxville police investigator Andrew Boatman wrote.

McLean, who supported his family as a pizza deliveryman while working to complete his college degree so he could become a school band director, said Powell came to his house the night of the shooting and entered the home, Boatman wrote.

McLean said he told Powell to "get out." He called 911 and told dispatchers an intruder was in his house, then told them to "disregard the call because the intruder was leaving."

McLean "stated that he felt a great amount of stress due to his wife's relationship with Powell," the investigator wrote. "McLean stated that he went to his Toyota truck parked in the street in front of his house and retrieved a rifle and that he remembered shooting Powell," the investigator wrote.

Powell died from a shot in the head as he sat in his car outside the McLeans' home. The affidavits supported search warrants on the couple's home and Eric McLean's car. Police recovered a rifle shell casing, the wife's diary notebook and a letter from the wife to Sean Powell in the car. They found a letter to the wife, Sean Powell's grade book, a paper written by Sean Powell and a small bag of marijuana in the home. After the shooting, Erin McLean, 29, reportedly went to Nashville with their two sons to stay with relatives. Four days after the murder, paramedics rushed her to Centennial Medical Center after she tried to commit suicide with prescription drugs, according to police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford. She was released the next day, according to hospital records. Poston, the husband's attorney, said he would seek emergency custody of the children on behalf of Eric McLean's parents, Norman and Tanya McLean of Lenoir City, because there are "legitimate concerns regarding their safety." Meanwhile, Eric McLean faces a bond hearing on Tuesday.

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