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Video: Hear teacher's 911 call

By Natalie Morales
Dateline NBC
updated 9/19/2008 8:04:20 PM ET 2008-09-20T00:04:20
TRANSCRIPT

This report aired on Dateline on Friday, Sept. 19, at 9 p.m. ET.

In a modest home on a quiet street in Knoxville, Tenn., a young couple created their portrait of a happy family. Theirs was a quiet existence, full of promise - but filled with secrets.

Tamara Mulkey: A marriage of bliss in the beginning and pure chaos at the end.

This is a story of ordinary people - aspiring teachers  and a bright but troubled young man, whose lives collided with devastating impact.

DebraFlynn: I couldn't kiss my son goodbye.

A home now without its family, a mother in hiding with her two children, turned into shadowy silhouettes – and a father haunted by what he'd done.

Long before the secrets and the scrutiny, Erin and Eric McLean were working toward a better life for their family. Tamara and Brian Mulkey believed their friends were well on their way.

TamaraMulkey: They were really looking to get that all-American family, just right there, and they weren't going to let anything stop them.

Eric McLean grew up in and around Knoxville. Passionate about music, he hoped to teach high school music. Be a band director. 

Tamara Mulkey: Music - it was everything to him.

That is, until the age of 18, when he met 16-year-old Erin Myers. She, too, wanted to be a teacher. Friends remember a free spirit who was also a gifted student. 

TamaraMulkey:  Vibrant, intelligent. The all-around perfect girl.

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Eric and Erin lived together and even saved enough to buy a house- a one story with a small yard on Coker Ave. A son, Eric Jr., quickly followed.  The young couple married in 1996: Eric, 21 and erin 19.

TamaraMulkey:  Oh, in the beginning, they were like every perfect married couple, loving and attentive. They were in love, and you could see it wherever they went.

Three years later another son, Ian, was born. By the fall of 2006, Eric, now 31, was pursuing his degree in music education at the University of Tennessee. But with a family to provide for, he also juggled several jobs.

Erin, 29, was getting a Masters’ degree- her second- in education.  She started a student teaching assignment - at West High School in Knoxville. She seemed to making a great first impression.

Shiloh Jines was a student at West High.

ShiloJines: I had heard that she was a cool person. That she was kinda young and kind of an interesting person.

Eric's parents, Norman and Tanya, 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.

Natalie Morales:  I know that Eric had asked you to help him with something at one point.  Is that right?

ErinMcLean: He said, "Mom, 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 Avenue,  nothing seemed out of the ordinary - at least not yet.

TamaraMulkey: 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.

EricMcLean: Hello, I have an intruder in the house.

911: Where are you?

EricMcLean: 2424 Coker Avenue.

It was Saturday, March 10th, 2007. A little after 9:00 p.m. Eric McLean placed a call to 911.

911: You have an intruder in your house? What do you mean by an intruder?

EricMcLean: Trespasser.

911: Do you know this person?

EricMcLean: Yes.

911: Okay, who is it?

EricMcLean: Some guy who`s stalking my wife.

911operator: You have an intruder in your house? What do you mean by an intruder?

EricMcLean: Trespasser.

But after a few moments, the call changed tone...

EricMcLean: Now he's leaving."

911: Okay, do you want to speak to an officer?

EricMcLean: Oh, no. He's leaving now.

Whatever was going on seemed to end - but within seven minutes - another 911 call. And this time, it was Erin on the line.

911: 911.

ErinMcLean: My husband just killed someone.

911: Is he there with you right now?

ErinMcLean: No, but the body`s here.

911: How did he do it?

ErinMcLean: He shot him with a shotgun. Please come! Hurry! Hurry! Oh my god!

Knoxville police raced to the scene. And as they swarmed Coker Avenue, they found the "intruder" was dead - and Eric McLean was gone.

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

BrianMulkey: I still can't kinda 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.

ErinMcLean: My husband just killed someone. Please come. Hurry hurry!

In March 2007, Eric McLean, a well-regarded husband and father, fired a single shot into the head of young man he'd described as an intruder on a 911 call.  And then he took off- leaving his wife Erin  behind with a lifeless victim.

But nothing prepared Knoxville residents for what they 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: How do you know Sean?

ErinMcLean: He used to be one of my students.

Dispatcher: How do you know Sean?

Erin: 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 Avenue.  Sean Powell was born in 1988, to a single mom.  He spent his early childhood in a loving home.  But his mother had legal and financial troubles.  And when he was six, she gave him up for adoption. In Knoxville, Sean found a new life with another family: the Powells. They got him counseling and for a time sent him to an expensive boarding school. But when he was 17, his birth mother, Debra Flynn searched for him, and they reunited.

DebraFlynn: Sean started crying. And he said, Mom, I thought you were dead.

NatalieMorales: 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?

DebraFlynn: No, he just was happy.

ShilohJines: He played rugby, but was poetic too.

Shiloh Jines dated Sean for a time in 2006. She described him as passionate about life, but also complex.

ShilohJines: He was energetic and he was out to experience everything, but sometimes it was like the world itself would get him down.

And at Knoxville's West High School, Sean had a reputation as a troubled student. He drank, smoked, was confrontational. And in a class at West High in Fall 2006 he first met an assistant teacher named Erin McLean.

NatalieMorales: When Sean was at West High School, did he ever tell you anything about an assistant  teacher named Erin McLean?

DebraFlynn: 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.

ShiloJines: He was really intellectual. He 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 November 2006- a few weeks after his 18th birthday- Sean Powell was suspended from West High and never returned.  So as he entered adulthood, he also seemed to enter a downward spiral.

ShiloJines: Everyone had sorta worried about him just knowing that a  lot of the time he threw caution to the wind.

He spent much of December 2006 in an alcohol rehab program, then told people he was kicked out of his home. Sean's  parents deny that.  Yet not many people were able to understand or help him. But Sean Powell thought he knew a former student teacher who could.

Eighteen-year-old Sean Powell reached out to 29-year-old Erin not as a mentor but as a friend. By all accounts, their relationship was a close one that kept growing closer. By that winter, they had become lovers.

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

ShilohJones: Like around January, there was something different about him. It was different than the person I had met.

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

DebraFlynn: 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.

Later, she saw these 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 called Debra Flynn from a police car.

ErinMcLean: Is this Debra?

Debra Flynn: Uh-huh.

She said her name was Erin McLean and that she had terrible news.

ErinMcLean: Sean's dead.

Debra Flynn: What?

ErinMcLean: He's dead.  He's been killed.  He's been shot to death.

DebraFlynn: 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.”

NatalieMorales: Did you have any idea that Erin McLean was his  former assistant teacher?

DebraFlynn: I had absolutely no idea.

The shooting made headlines all over the country.  A husband kills his wife's former student, her lover.   

Eric McLean surrendered the morning after the killing, dropping the rifle he used the night before onto railroad tracks outside of town. And it turns out his car was found at West High School, the very place the scandal began: Where Erin McLean first met Sean Powell.

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:

MattLauer: And I'll ask you point blank, did you shoot Sean Powell? Video: How the gun was held in the fatal shooting of student

EricMcLean: Yes.

MattLauer: Was this an accident?

EricMcLean: Yes.

MattLauer: You knew that she was having an affair?

EricMcLean: I mean, I mean, I pretty much knew. I think I was just, like, in denial for a long time, you know?

MattLauer: Why not leave? Why not leave her?

EricMcLean: I know. I just couldn’t leave her.

MattLauer: Explain that. Why not?

EricMcLean: Because I love her!                                                                              

Eric would have much more to say in the months that followed. But it's what Erin McLean did next that left everyone talking.

In spring 2007, admitted killer Eric McLean was indicted by a Tennessee grand jury for second degree murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Sean Powell. Powell was the boyfriend and former student of McLean’s wife, Erin.  By that summer, Eric McLean was out on bail, working on a Tennessee farm. When we spoke to him then, he expressed remorse for the killing.

NatalieMorales: 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.

Although he would not answer questions about that deadly night, he did talk of a marriage that had been dissolving before his eyes and described his wife Erin as a woman looking to escape her life and the responsibilities that went with it.

Eric McLean:  She said, "You can have the kids, the house, the whole estate.  I don't care.  I just want my freedom."  She was just- felt like she had lost her youth. And so she blamed me for that. 

And as Eric watched Erin and Sean grow closer, he tried to rationalize their friendship. But a month before the shooting, his oldest son confirmed his worst fears.

EricMcLean: 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."

NatalieMorales: How did that make you feel though?

EricMcLean: That made me feel really, really upset.

Still, he said, he loved his wife.

Natalie Morales: I see-you're still wearing your wedding band.  Why?

EricMcLean: I still love her, but she's just not the person I thought she was. It's like I'm in love with a person that doesn't exist anyway.

Erin McLean was living in Nashville and turned down all interview requests. But her attorney at the time, Gary Blackburn, spoke on her behalf about her marriage and her relationship with Sean Powell.

GaryBlackburn: Erin and Eric rarely saw each other. The two of them had a classic loveless marriage. 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 said the sexual relationship between Erin McLean and Sean Powell began only after the 18-year-old was expelled from West High.

GaryBlackburn:  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.

But since the shooting, this tragic story has only grown more bizarre. In August 2007, Erin McLean, using her maiden name, got a teaching job at a Christian academy near Nashville. Despite the appearance of starting fresh, a troubling pattern emerged: another school, another student, another scandal.

Just a few weeks into the school year, the parents of a 17-year-old boy complained that Erin called their son 22 times and allegedly tried to lure him to a local motel with promises of alcohol. 

JamieSatterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel: At some point, this boy's parents started blocking these calls, so she had one of her sons call and pretend to be his classmate.

Erin McLean told her attorney nothing inappropriate was going on and that she was contacting the teen to offer him emotional support. But she was immediately fired and entered a mental health facility, leaving her two sons, ages 8 and 11, with her mother.  Days later, another 911 call...this time from Erin's sister:

Caller: My sister has taken her children and she's completely unstable and she's a harm to herself and her children.

JamieSatterfield: She checked herself out, waited till her mother was asleep, went in, grabbed her boys, and took off.

Erin McLean and the children had taken off on a cross-country odyssey. 

They had not been seen for a month, when, acting on a tip, dateline found the children at an austin, texas motel.  They were wandering barefoot in the parking lot, apparently being looked after by a 19- year-old.

That same day, the children were also seen at a work site, where Erin McLean was reportedly working as a day laborer. Concerned for their safety, dateline immediately notified both Eric and Erin McLean's attorneys. Texas authorities were then contacted by the attorneys and investigated.  Dateline captured police questioning Erin in the dark of the night while her children ate pizza nearby. Finding the children were safe, the inquiry ended - and the children stayed with Erin.

Jamie Satterfield: There are a lot of mechanisms that don't kick in 'cause she has legal custody.

Erin McLean has not been charged with any crime.  After her stay in Texas, she and the children were seen in Colorado, but not since.  While there's no evidence they're in danger, her former attorney is worried.

GaryBlackburn: I'm very concerned about Erin's well being and very concerned about the well being of these two children.

Meanwhile, Eric McLean prepared for his day in court. And questions swirled around whether Erin would testify. Then, late last year, a startling development. In December, the prosecutor announced that a new grand jury had just bumped up the second degree murder charge against Eric McLean to an indictment of murder in the first degree.

Defense Attorney Bruce Poston: He's facing life if he gets convicted of first. It makes the trial much tougher for us. But it doesn't change the facts. 

It would be nine more months before a jury would hear the facts of the case. Would the mystery of the seven minutes between the first 911 call and the shooting of Sean Powell finally be uncovered? Or was the truth hidden under more secrets?

Two weeks ago, eighteen months after the killing on Coker Avenue, Eric McLean stood trial for first degree murder. He faced 51 years to life for killing the lover and former student of his wife, Erin. For Debra Flynn, the birth mother of 18-year-old victim Sean Powell, it  was a long time coming.

Debra Flynn: 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. Sean was defenseless.  He murdered my son, execution style, flat out.

And in the courtroom, that was the prosecution's take.

He was murdered while sitting helplessly in an old Mercedes in front of 2424 Coker Avenue.

Prosecutor Bill Crabtree set out to prove it was not an accident, but premeditated murder - that McLean was an executioner who plotted for weeks to take revenge on the teenager.

Eric McLean went to the bed of his Toyota truck, got the rifle, shot him in the head. He's dead because of a jealous husband.

The prosecutor called a former friend who testified Eric McLean knew for at least a month about his wife's affair with Sean Powell.

Crabtree: Do you recall Eric saying something to you about Sean Powell and Erin McLean?

Linda Guidali: He said that they were seeing each other.  

At one point, she testified, he even agreed to a casual marriage.

LindaGuidali: He told me that he and Erin had decided to have an open relationship.  However- he had changed his mind.

And if Eric McLean changed his mind, the prosecutor argued, that would help establish a motive: Jealousy.

A co-prosecutor had a police officer read Eric McLean's  diaries, which were written in the weeks leading up to the killing, and found in McLean's car.

Officer Russell Whitfield: “I have unconditional love for Erin.  She can do or say anything to me and I will eventually get over it.” 

And one passage showed Eric McLean preoccupied with Erin's attraction to Sean Powell.

Officer Russell Whitfield: "He is what she talks about most of the time."

As further proof, prosecutors used McLean's own admission that he got the rifle two weeks before the shooting. R1eporter Jamie Satterfield covered the trial for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

JamieSatterfield: They used all these things to try to portray a man who had gone from loving, adoring, caring for his wife to becoming obsessed with her, so much that he could kill someone.

And then there was McLean's 911 call the night of the killing. The prosecution argued that it was the voice of a man with a plan.

JamieSatterfield: They were trying to show two things. Number one, Eric was calm. This was not a passionate situation.

According to prosecutors, Eric McLean repositioned his family car to make a getaway, and planted the rifle in the bed of his pickup truck, which was parked behind where Sean Powell parked his Mercedes.

Sean died of a gunshot wound to the head.  But a non-fatal wound on Sean Powell's body was crucial to the prosecution.

ChiefDetectiveAndrewBoatman: It appears to be a grazing bullet wound into the underside of the right hand.

Attorney 1: Now, you have a name for these in your business, don't you?

Andrew Boatman: Yes, sir.

Attorney 1: And what is that?

Andrew Boatman: A defensive wound.

JamieSatterfield: by its very name, defensive wound, suggests that you have a- a helpless victim. 

The prosecution told the jury Eric McLean snuck up from behind Sean Powell's car with the high-powered rifle and took him by surprise:

Crabtree: And what I always thought happened was the cocking of the rifle is what got Sean Powell's attention, he turns, sees the rifle, throws his hand up and shot.

The medical examiner's findings seemed to back up the prosecution's theory.

Dr. Milesci-Polochan, Medical Examiner: The bullet hit the hand before coming to the head. 

And she made another determination about the wound on the hand.

This particular wound has evidence of close range firing, meaning that the muzzle was relatively close but not touching the skin.

Throughout the prosecution case, though, a huge question hung over the courtroom.

JamieSatterfield: If i'm on that jury, if there's anyone I want to hear from, it's Erin McLean.

And though never called to the stand, Erin McLean did make a court appearance via police videotape, recorded minutes after the shooting.

ErinMcLean: Oh my God, oh my God.

In it, the jury could hear her voice in the background - and her chilling words as she was driven to the police station.

ErinMcLean: I don't- you know what, he has done things to suggest to me that he's capable of it - he threatened to kill me before.  And I didn't really think that he could do it. 

Keith Lyon: Really?

ErinMcLean: Yes, he threatened to kill me before or himself.

For the prosecutor, it was powerful evidence that Eric had contemplated murder long before he pulled the trigger. And as the prosecution rested its case, attention now shifted to the Defense table. Would Eric McLean testify? Jurors wouldn't wait long for an answer.

How would this admitted killer defend himself.  And what other surprises were in store?

Erin McLean, the young assistant teacher who had an affair with her former student, had taken off with her children and was nowhere to be found in the Knox County Courthouse. But she was an unseen presence. Last week, after a prosecution effort to paint her ex-husband Eric McLean as a calculating, cold-blooded killer, his court-appointed defense attorney, Bruce Poston, went on offense.

McLean was charged with first degree murder in the shooting of 18-year-old year-old Sean Powell.

The defense argued that McLean, far from being able to seek bloody revenge, was a hopelessly devoted husband trapped in a disintegrating marriage - a marriage which ended with the fateful 911 call Eric McLean made the night of the killing: March 10th, 2007.

Before getting to the heart of McLeans’ defense, his attorney called witnesses who testified Eric McLean suffered constant humiliation from his wife and her teenage boyfriend. A friend recounted being with Eric McLean at a Knoxville bar a week before the killing.

Scott Murrin: Well, Sean and Erin walked in.

Defense Attorney: Sean and Erin?

Scott Murrin: Yes, they were arm in arm.  And she had his- her tongue in his ear.  She was, you know, whisperin' stuff in his ear when they walked in.

Defense Attorney: They- what did Eric do?

Scott Murrin: He didn't do anything. He sat there.

But his attorney believed the most powerful evidence was the defendant himself.

Judge Mary Beth Liebowitz: Call your next witness, sir.

Bruce Poston: I call Eric McLean, Your Honor. 

McLean was pushed to explain away key prosecution points. For starters, the notion that Eric initially condoned the affair.

Bruce Poston: So I'm going to ask you a question, straight up, alright? Video: Prosecutor: Student love triangle shooting no accident

Did you have an open marriage?

Eric McLean: No, sir.

Bruce Poston: Did you approve of her doing this?

Eric McLean: No, sir.      

McLean admitted he grew desperate as the affair continued, and stole a rifle from his father's gun collection two weeks before the killing - but not to commit murder.

Bruce Poston: Why'd you get it?              

Eric McLean: 'Cause I wanted to- I wanted to kill myself.

He testified he loaded one bullet into the gun and hid it. Not in his truck as he originally told police - but in the laundry room in his house. Then, McLean told jurors, the same night he was embarrassed in the bar. He faced the ultimate humiliation from his wife and Sean Powell...in his own home.

Bruce Poston: What happened when you got home?

Eric McLean: I just went inside and they were in there having sex, so I left.

Bruce Poston: Do you know whether or not they know you were  there?

Eric McLean: Yeah, they knew I was there.

Bruce Poston: And was that gun at your home?

Eric McLean: Yes, sir.

Bruce Poston: Why didn't you just go get it?

Eric McLean: I didn't want to hurt anybody else, I just wanted to die.

And within a week, Sean was seeing Erin again. They attended a play together and Powell even slept on a sofa at the McLean house. Then - in the early evening of march 10th, Sean came back again to take Erin out on a date.

Bruce Poston: And, you didn't remove him then, right?

Eric McLean: No, I just called 911.

Bruce Poston: Were you afraid of him?

Eric McLean: Uh...I guess so..."

And now, those crucial seven minutes the defense had promised to describe were ticking -ticking towards the fatal encounter. McLean testified he Erin, and Sean went into the backyard- where they laughed at him.

Eric McLean: She was just saying, "He's twice the man you are," and "I don't want my kids to grow up to be like you."

McLean told jurors Erin and Sean got up and walked toward Sean's car parked out front.

Eric McLean: I was just right behind her, I was begging her not to go.  I was like, "Please, we need to work something out."

Bruce Poston: Why are you begging her this time, versus all the other times?

Eric McLean: Because she was going- she's told me she was gonna get the kids.

Bruce Poston: Okay.  Did you believe her?

Eric McLean: Yes.

He testified his wife went back inside as Sean started the car and waited for her with the passenger door opened.

Bruce Poston: And where'd you go in the house?

Eric McLean: I went in the laundry room and got the gun.

He got the rifle, he claimed, not to harm Sean but to scare him to force Sean to take him seriously.

Eric McLean: I just started walking toward the car.  And it-- at-- some point he saw me.  And I motioned with the gun, like, "Get out of here. You're not taking my kids from me, you already have Erin."

Eric McLean: I told him to get the f--- out of here.  And he just laughed.

Bruce Poston: He just laughed?  Wasn't afraid of you standing there with the rifle?

Eric McLean: No, sir.

Bruce Poston: What'd you do?  Did you do anything to make- show him you really meant business?  You have to tell us what you did.

Eric McLean: I just cocked- you know, cocked it, the lever.

Bruce Poston: (sound of gun cocking) Did that make him afraid? Video: How the gun was held in the fatal shooting of student

Eric McLean: No, sir.

Bruce Poston: Did he say anything?

Eric McLean: He said, "In two weeks, they'll be calling me Daddy." 

And with that, McLean testified, Sean reached from inside the car and grabbed the gun.

Bruce Poston: And what'd you do?

Eric McLean: To, I guess take it away from me or something and pulled- about pulled me in the car, but I was standing up, you know?

Bruce Poston: You grabbed the barrel, and then what'd you do?

Eric McLean: I jerked back, but, I guess I didn't really feel- he either let go of it, or I jerked it out of his hand.  And I'm not sure which one, but I jerked back and it went off.

Bruce Poston: And?

Eric McLean: And I just took off.

JamieSatterfield: Eric was the case. And I think the prosecution knew it good or bad.

So prosecutor Bill Crabtree had to knock Eric's testimony down - and he hammered away.

BillCrabtree: I mean you killed a helpless man- or helpless boy.  Didn't you?

Eric McLean: I didn't mean to, sir.

BillCrabtree: You didn't mean to, you point- point a gun at someone, a gun that's loaded, a gun that's being cocked. You got your finger on the trigger. And the person it's pointed at dies, and you say didn't mean it? (pause) This is part of the problem that you and your wife had, isn't it? Is you've always blamed everything on her.  It's always been someone else's fault.  Isn't the part of your all's problem?

Eric McLean: No, sir.

BillCrabtree: You never bothered to tell any of the law enforcement agencies, when you gave your statement, about him grabbing the barrel, and you jumping back, and all this, did you?

Eric McLean: I try'd to.

BillCrabtree: Who'd try to tell?

Eric McLean: That officer who took me in there. I told him I wanna make another statement to the police.  And he said that I would- I just should wait and talk to a lawyer.

BillCrabtree: Somebody else for you to blame.

And in an unusual move, Prosecutor Bill Crabtree insisted McLean show the jury how he held the gun.

Hon. Mary Beth Leibowitz: Stand up--

Eric McLean: I don't-- I'm sorry.

Hon. Mary Beth Leibowitz: --Mr. McLean, and show him.

BillCrabtree: Come down, please, sir.

Hon. Mary Beth Leibowitz: I'm sorry, sir, you need to step down-- down.

BillCrabtree: Turn around and show the jury.

Eric McLean: I just hold it like this.

BillCrabtree: Like that?

Eric McLean: Yes.

BillCrabtree: This gun that you were trying to scare someone with, your finger was on the trigger?

Eric McLean: Yes, sir.

Then, the prosecutor made McLean look at the horrific crime scene photographs, the defendant cowering, shielding his eyes, as the jury watched.

BillCrabtree: Sean Powell gets killed as a result of conflict between you and your wife, right?

Eric McLean: I don't know how to answer that.

In the courtroom, Sean Powell's parents nodded in assent.

But what would it all mean in the end?  Who was the real Eric McLean? A humiliated husband who accidentally killed the unarmed teenager, or a calculating killer?  The jury would soon have to decide.

After six days, two dozen witnesses and testimony from the defendant himself - the defense and the prosecution were about to face off for the last time: Closing arguments. It was their final attempt to persuade twelve Knox County, Tennessee jurors of their theories on how Eric McLean shot and killed 18-year-old Sean Powell, the lover and former student of McLean's wife, Erin. Whether McLean did it was not in question, but his intent was. And to show how that could be, with the help of a colleague, defense attorney Bruce Poston recreated McLean's version of Sean Powell's last moments. He showed how McLean approached Sean, who sat in his car, smoking a cigarette.

BrucePoston: If you're totally unafraid of the wuss that's coming up and you're laughing at him, you grab it.  Now, very slowly grab, let go, look at it.  Stay right there. That's the wound in the hand, right here, right out here through the window.  That's how it happened.

Crabtree: Loading the rifle, cocking the rifle.  That's all premeditation!

But Prosecutor Crabtree dismissed Poston's claims. The prosecution contended if Sean's hand did not make contact with the rifle, there was little possibility the gun went off accidentally.

Crabtree reminded jurors of expert testimony. The forensics, he argued, were not on the defense's side.

Then, the decision was in the hands of the jury. The woman in the center of this case, Erin McLean, never surfaced. But Juror Patricia Kerschieter said it was clear Erin had an unbreakable hold on Eric McLean.

PatriciaKerschieter: He was just sooo in love with this woman, he would do anything for her. 

She also said they put the defense demonstration to the test.

PatriciaKerschieter: We tried in the jury room.  We tried pulling back on the gun and having somebody grabbin' for a gun and havin' somebody grabbin' with the gun.

Deliberations went on for more than eleven hours, over two days.

Judge: And has the jury, in fact, reached a verdict in--

Mr. Rohr: Yes, we have, ma'am.

Judge: Would you please stand?

Finally, a verdict.

Judge: Mr. McLean, would you please stand and face the jury.  Mr. Rohr, what is the verdict of the jury/charge of premeditated first-degree murder? 

Mr. Rohr: Not guilty. 

Judge: What is the verdict of the jury as to the lesser included offense of second-degree murder, sir? 

Mr. Rohr: Not guilty. 

Judge: And what is the jury's verdict as to the offense of voluntary manslaughter? 

Mr. Rohr: Not guilty. 

JamieSatterfield: When I heard them say not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, I gasped.

Eric McLean was found guilty of reckless homicide, a much lesser charge. Sean's parents, the Powells, left the courtroom, devastated, without saying a word - leaving the prosecutor to speak for them.

Crabtree: They loved this boy and he was their son and he was killed.

From Sean's birth mother, Debra Flynn, tears.

DebraFlynn: He got away with murder, he got away with murder.

But the jury looked at the evidence very differently.

PatriciaKerscheiter: We found that it could very well be the way that Eric McLean said it was. We all came to the consensus that this was an accident.

Yet the juror says the decision was not made lightly.

PatriciaKerscheiter: I would just like the Powell family to know that we did not disregard their son in any way.

But they rejected all the prosecutor's arguments that Eric McLean was a cold-blooded killer.

PatriciaKerscheiter: I mean, in my mind, he did not prove anything - except how weak and how remoseful Eric was.

In fact, she says, it all  came down to Eric McLean himself.

PatriciaKerscheiter: There is no way that this young man could premeditate a murder.

And as he left court, the admitted killer was met by an unusual reaction. It's possible McLean will get probation. And get no more time behind bars than the six weeks he has already served.  But he says he will never escape the punishment of knowing the pain his actions inflicted.

Eric McLean: Nothing you can say can make it better. It hurts me. I, you know, ruined a bunch of lives. And I didn't mean to.

Now Sean Powell's family and friends are trying to console themselves with the thought he lived his brief life as best as he could.

ShilohJones: He just had fire in his eyes, he wanted to live his life to the absolute fullest.

Eric McLean divorced Erin in February of 2008, and was awarded joint custody of the children. But now, the whereabouts of Erin McLean and the two boys are unknown.

Prosecutor Bill Crabtree: Erin McLean. What's going to happen to her and those two children? And even Eric McLean? Everybody's lost in this in this case and they have all been destroyed by this one shot.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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