By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A man accused of gunning down a teenager over an affair with his teacher wife admitted to the shooting in a jailhouse interview aired Thursday but said it was an accident.
Eric McLean, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Sean Powell, told NBC's "Today" show that he knew "for a long time" that his wife was having an affair with the young man, but he refused to believe it.
"She was talking on the phone with him all of the time and talked about him a lot," McLean said. "It was like in a friendship way, but it was odd. I didn't think it was normal, and I told her it's not normal for you to be talking to students like this on the phone so much every day."
He said he also heard about the relationship from his two young sons a few weeks before the shooting: "They said that they went to the park with her and Sean, and that they were holding hands."
Powell, an 18-year-old former West High student, had met Erin McLean, 29, the previous fall during her teaching internship at the school.
Eric McLean, 31, had been supporting his wife and family as a pizza deliveryman while working to complete his college degree so he could become a school band director. Even though he said he knew his wife was having an affair, he said he didn't leave her because he loved her.
"I still love her," he said in the interview. Of his sons he added, "I hope I see them again some day. I think about them all the time."
McLean said he also thinks of Powell and his family daily and prays for them.
"I just wish that none of this had happened. This is a total disaster," he said.
When McLean was asked directly if he shot Powell, he immediately responded "Yes."
Asked if it was an accident, he also quickly said "Yes," though his attorney said he would not address specifics.
McLean's attorney, Bruce Poston, said his client made the 911 call about an intruder the day Powell was shot because Powell was at his home and wouldn't leave.
He was trying "to bluff this young man," Poston said.
General Sessions Judge Bob McGee agreed Wednesday to allow the NBC interview over prosecutors' objections that it could prejudice a jury pool. Poston argued for the interview, saying it would be the only one he would allow before trial.
McLean surrendered on March 11 to a police officer who approached him walking along railroad tracks six miles from the high school, according to court affidavits obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday. 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 shot Powell after finding him at his house and telling him to leave, Boatman's affidavit said. McLean called 911 to report and intruder and called back saying to disregard the call "because the intruder was leaving," according to the affidavit.
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."
Powell died from a shot in the head as he sat in his car outside the McLeans' home.
After the shooting, Erin McLean reportedly went to Nashville with their 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.
Poston said he would seek emergency custody of the children on behalf of Eric McLean's parents because there are "legitimate concerns regarding their safety."
Eric McLean faces a bond hearing on Tuesday.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)