Anatomy Of A Love Triangle: Husband Kills Wife's 18-Year-Old Lover And Former Student

A seemingly loving family collapsed after the wife met a troubled, talented high school student during her quest to become a professor.

By Gina Tron

From the outside, the couple seemed to have a bright future together. But a gunshot shattered that facade on March 10, 2007 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Just after 9 p.m. a 911 dispatcher received a call from 31-year-old Eric McLean, who said he had an intruder in his house. The dispatcher asked if he wanted to speak to an officer. But Eric changed his mind claiming that the “intruder” was now leaving. 

Less than five minutes later, a second call was placed to 911 from the same house. This time it was Eric’s wife, 29-year-old Erin McLean.

“My husband just killed someone,” she said, according to Snapped on Oxygen. 

The dispatcher asked if her husband was there with her.

“No, but the... the body’s here.”

Erin met Eric at a coffee house in 1994.  Eric was a freshman at the University of Tennessee. When he wasn’t in class, he played in a local rock band. Erin was a junior in high school. The two immediately hit it off.

“I just really, fell in love with her.”

After Erin graduated from high school, the pair moved in together.  Within a few months, they were able to buy modest home in North Knoxville, Tennessee.

“Financially it was extremely tight, but it didn’t really matter that much we had a lot of fun together and we were able to get by and have a good time,” said Eric.

The pair married in 1996. They had two sons together.

But being a full-time mom wasn’t the long-term goal for Erin. Eric put his own education on hold and took on extra jobs so that Erin could go back to school. A top-notch student, Erin graduated with honors in 2002 and quickly followed up by earning a Masters Degree in Literature. In 2006, she re-enrolled in school to earn a second Master’s in Education. She was hoping to get a Ph.D. and become a college professor. But first, Erin had to go back to high school as an intern, part of her training to get a graduate degree. During her internship, Erin met a smart but rebellious 17-year-old boy named Sean Powell. He had a troubled past and was an aspiring artist. He began confiding in Erin, who was then 28.

“She started tutoring him because she said he was going to fail school if she didn’t,” Eric said. He said he ended up taking care of the kids most of the time while Erin was working her internship and tutoring Sean. Eric was also back in school, which he was juggling in between delivering pizzas and playing in his band. This left little romantic time for Eric and Erin, which allegedly bred resentment from Erin.

“It was almost like she was regressing back to her teenager kind of emotions. She just stopped talking to me all together in November. It was like there was no communication at all,” said Eric.

Well, at least no communication with Eric. Erin was spending her time communicating a lot with someone else: Sean.

“I would come home and find you know the phone on the floor and the sleeping bag on the floor where’d she been up you know all night talking to him on the phone,” Eric said.

Sean got suspended from school after being caught with alcohol and was sent to a rehab facility. He turned 18, left school, and soon moved in with the McLeans. Eric, who didn't suspect an affair, put Sean up in his band’s practice studio at Erin’s request, thinking that the favor could help out their relationship. Eric even befriended the troubled teen. They all hung out together. Sean would watch movies with the kids. Sean may have watched G-rated movies with the children, but he was having an X-rated experience with their mom. It got to the point where Erin and Sean walked into a club where Eric and a band mate were watching a performance, and Erin was openly hanging all over Sean, sticking her tongue in his ear.

Just one week before the shooting, Eric walked in on Erin and Sean having sex.

“I said, you know, I should have known that you didn’t care about me at all that’s basically all I said to her and she didn’t even care,” Eric said.

On the night of the shooting, Sean Powell drove up to McLean house. Eric told him to leave, that he wasn’t welcome there anymore.

“He just ignored me, walked right down my sidewalk and walked right into the house,” Eric said.

According to Eric, he immediately called 911, only to hang up once it looked like Sean was starting to leave. But, Sean didn’t fully leave.  Eric claimed that Sean and Erin began taunting him.

“They were making fun of me for calling 911 like I couldn’t even get him out of my house on my own like I’m just a big [expletive] or something.”

Erin allegedly began telling Eric that Sean was twice the man he was. She allegedly told Eric that she didn’t want the kids to grow up like him. She then threatened to leave and take the children with her.

That’s when Eric got the rifle. He claimed that he just wanted to scare Sean. But, Sean wasn’t scared. In fact, he laughed and allegedly said something along the lines of, “Hey, in two weeks they’ll be calling me daddy.”

Then, according to Eric, Sean had lunged forward and grabbed at the gun. And, that’s when the gun went off. At least that’s what Eric later said on the stand. But when Eric turned himself in to police after the shooting, he didn’t mention anything about Sean lunging for the gun. The contradiction was brought up in court.

The news got hold of the shooting and the salacious scandal, and it made national headlines. Despite being negatively portrayed in the media, Erin wasn’t charged with any crime.  There was no evidence she’d had a sexual relationship with Sean until after he’d turned 18. Erin packed her bags and headed west with her two boys. She hid out at her mother’s home in Nashville. A few days after the shooting, Erin attempted suicide. She took a bunch of pills and locked herself in a bathroom. 911 was called and she was brought from her mother’s house to a hospital where she was diagnosed with PTSD, put on medication and started therapy.

Shifting the blame for Sean’s death to Erin was Eric’s only chance at not going to jail for murder. The fact that Erin had an affair with her former student more than ten years her junior would give Eric’s attorneys plenty of ammo. In a taped interview aired on the Today Show, Eric came across as a heartbroken man driven to desperate ends by his wife’s betrayal.

Matt Lauer: Why not leave her?

Eric: I know, I just couldn’t leave her.

Matt Lauer: Explain that. Why not?

Eric: Cause I love her [sobs].

Erin soon resurfaced in the news after a story broke that she had gone back into teaching. She had used her maiden name to get hired at a private school. Several parents accused Erin of inappropriate behavior at that school: allegations of her inviting boys over, and giving them alcohol. Once those allegations broke, Erin left her kids with her mom and checked herself into a mental health facility in Nashville. Two days later, Eric filed for divorce. He also, despite having a murder trial only months away, requested custody of his two sons. The week after Eric filed for divorce, Erin left the mental hospital, snuck into her mother’s house, and grabbed the kids. Her sister called 911.

“My sister has taken her children and she’s completely unstable and she’s a harm to her herself and to her children. She’s not supposed to have them. DCS has put her kids with my mom.”

Erin and the kids disappeared, and began traveling around with a man Erin met at the mental hospital. She didn’t show up for the divorce hearing. Erin didn’t know there was a divorce pending. She was living in and out of hotels with her friend from the mental hospital along with her kids. The judge ordered the McLean children to be placed in protective custody and granted Eric visitation rights.  Eric got what he asked for: the property, the house, and fifty-fifty time with the boys.  

Erin was not asked to testify during Eric’s 2008 murder trial.

The prosecution said in court, “Look, you’re not going to like her. We don’t like her. She’s, you know, a bad woman she had an affair with a student.” They claimed that Eric was aware of the relationship between his wife and Sean. The prosecution alleged they were in an open relationship, and that Eric just got jealous.  They also pointed out that it looked like Sean had a defensive wound, which meant he may have died trying to defend himself. Additionally, it was Eric’s contradictory confession was brought up. When he turned himself in at the police station he didn’t mention that Sean reached for the gun or that the gun went off by accident, like Eric claimed in court.

But, the jury believed Eric.

He was found not guilty on all murder charges and on voluntary manslaughter charges. He was found guilty of reckless homicide and was sentenced to a mere ninety days in jail, with credit for time served.

“I don’t believe that any of us believed that he intentionally went out there to kill Sean Powell,” said juror Chris Rowher.

Erin actually ended up spending more time in prison. A judge sentenced Erin to 95 days in jail for contempt. The sentence was five days more than Eric had received for shooting Sean, a fact that left both the Powell family and Erin’s attorneys pretty upset. Eric was released early with credit for time served. He is appealing his 12-year probation sentence. He has been awarded primary custody of the children. Erin is currently out on bond and is also appealing her sentence. Sean Powell’s family has set up a memorial in his name with Childhelp Children’s Center of East Tennessee.

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