KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A prosecutor described a schoolteacher's husband as a jealous, calculating killer as trial opened Friday on charges he murdered his wife's teenage lover. But a defense lawyer told the jury that the defendant was a victim himself of a spouse who flaunted her infidelity.
Eric McLean, 33, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Sean Powell, the 18-year-old who was having an affair with student-teacher Erin McLean, then the 29-year-old wife of the defendant and mother of his two young sons.
The defense acknowledges that McLean shot Powell on March 10, 2007, outside the McLeans' home as the victim waited in his car for Erin McLean to run off with him.
But McLean claims the single shot from a high-powered rifle that blew away part of Powell's face was an accident, his lawyer Bruce Poston told jurors. The defense has said it will make the case for conviction on a lesser charge, such as voluntary manslaughter.
"Last night was a mistake," McLean said in a barely audible voice as he was handcuffed the morning after the shooting, arresting officers testified. They said they found him wandering along railroad tracks about six miles from the high school where he parked his getaway truck — the same location where Erin McLean had met Powell.
Assistant Attorney General Bill Crabtree told the six men and six women hearing the case that there is no such thing as a "deserved killing" under Tennessee law, including a death linked to infidelity.
Still the prosecution and defense each opened the trial by painting Erin McLean as a villainous seductress who manipulated her husband and her lover.
"Her acts, while totally despicable, are not a crime," Crabtree said. He claimed the McLeans had an "open marriage" and agreed to date other people.
"There is no open marriage; his heart is breaking," Poston countered, saying his client ignored the affair because he feared Powell and loved her.
The McLeans were divorced in February. Erin McLean, who disappeared with her children shortly after the shooting, is listed as a prosecution witness.
Crabtree described Powell's tough background. The son of a prostitute who abandoned him at 2, he shuffled between foster homes until a couple took him in at 6 and adopted him four years later. The prosecutor suggested Powell might have had a future if he hadn't fallen for Erin McLean.
"He died with his brain in the seat beside him ... because he wanted to love and be loved ... because of a jealous husband," Crabtree told the jury.
Poston contended that Eric McLean was a "Mr. Mom" who took care of the boys, working odd jobs and hours to pay the rent. McLean put aside his own desire to finish college and become a high school band director so his wife could follow her own career path, getting a master's degree and then becoming a teacher, Poston said.
Poston said Eric McLean saw his wife and Powell together several times over four months: in a bar, in a parking lot, kissing, even having sex. But he did nothing until March 10 when he found Powell at his home and told him to leave.
When Powell refused, McLean called 911 to report an intruder. The dispatcher tape was played in court Friday. It was introduced as evidence along with graphic photographs of the crime scene and the murder weapon. McLean ended the emergency call by saying Powell was leaving.
Poston told jurors that after the call, Powell went to his car and Erin McLean joined him.
"They are laughing at him (Eric) for calling 911," Poston said. "Erin yelled to her husband, 'Sean is 10 times the man you are. I don't want my boys around you. I am leaving with Sean.'"
When Erin McLean got out of the car to get something from the house, Poston said, Eric McLean pulled a rifle from his truck that he had purchased to commit suicide and walked to Powell's car.
Poston said Powell told McLean, "In two weeks, they will be calling me `Daddy.' "
"The gun goes off. The injuries are horrific," Poston said. But the killing, he said, "was an accident."
The jury is sequestered for the trial. Testimony is scheduled through the weekend and into next week.