On 7 March 2015, John Joseph ‘JJ’ Rush was shot dead at his ex-wife Cara Ryan’s Florida home. The couple had divorced in 2006, but had been in a tempestuous on-off relationship ever since. There was no doubt that Cara had pulled the trigger. But was she just defending herself from her out-of-control ex – or had she killed in cold blood?
John ‘JJ’ Rush, 45, was a retired police sergeant. Cara Ryan, 45, a respected teacher at the local high school.
They’d married in 1996 and divorced nine years later. But their split didn’t last long.
By 2007, they’d rekindled things and had an on-off relationship until February 2015.
It was JJ who’d finally called it off and moved out.
But a month later, a frantic Cara made a call to the emergency services.
‘My ex-husband came in, and he raped me,’ she told the operator.
So she’d shot him in self-defence – or so she claimed.
Injured JJ stumbled to a neighbour’s for help, but collapsed and died on their front porch.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation.
When questioned, Cara claimed JJ had become angry when he discovered that she was sexting another man.
JJ had pinned her down, threatened to kill her and raped her.
So Cara shot him with a .38-caliber pistol he’d bought her years before.
Friends and family were stunned.
JJ had worked for the St Petersburg Police, in the Forensic Unit, until suffering an injury in an on-duty car crash in 2005.
Afterwards, he’d gone to work for the County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Colleagues described him as ‘well-liked’.
And the murder investigators weren’t convinced by Cara’s account.
A week later, she was charged with second-degree murder. She faced a life sentence if convicted of the killing.
The Pinellas County Sheriff said that Cara had changed her story more than 10 times since shooting her ex-husband dead.
She claimed she’d been raped by JJ – then said she thought he was an intruder when she pulled the trigger.
The Sheriff said that investigators had discovered Cara controlled JJ, monitored his bank accounts, made him show her receipts, and even prevented him owning a computer.
Two days before his death, Cara learned JJ had taken away her access to his bank accounts.
Then, on that fateful night, they believed Cara had lured JJ to her home at Indian Rocks Beach with a racy text message – an offer of sex.
But, 30 minutes after JJ arrived, Cara had shot him once in the left arm.
The bullet travelled into his chest and struck his heart.
When Cara Ryan went on trial at Pinellas County Court this January, that was the case made by the prosecution.
It was a trial focussing on sex, heartbreak and jealousy.
The prosecution lawyer painted Cara Ryan as a crazy ex-wife, unwilling to move on.
‘On 7 March 2015, she invited him over for sex. He accepted her invitation and, by the end of the night, he was dead,’ the lawyer told the jury.
The lawyer said that according to family and friends, JJ was ‘happier than they’ve seen him in years’ following the break-up.
Yet Cara was distraught – blindsided by JJ’s decision to end their 20-year relationship.
The prosecution lawyer said Cara started taking antidepressants, took a week off from her teaching job at Clearwater High School.
The court heard that Cara desperately tried to win JJ back, sending suggestive text messages and trying to make plans to meet up.
‘He kept it polite, pleasant, arm’s length,’ the lawyer said.
But Cara started ‘acting out’ because she was losing control over JJ and he was exerting his independence.
After shooting him, the prosecution claimed Cara concocted a story to avoid justice. It claimed that she’d lied about being raped by JJ.
Investigators found no sign of a sexual assault.
And the lead detective on the case told jurors Cara had given three versions of the rape, before she claimed she thought JJ was an intruder.
But Cara’s defence lawyers disputed the prosecution’s version of events.
They argued that JJ was a violent drunk and ‘out of control’ on the day he was shot dead.
Cara’s defence lawyer portrayed JJ as an intimidating, unpredictable addict.
He admitted Cara checked her ex-husband’s text messages, and that she was controlling the couple’s finances. But only because JJ had a gambling addiction.
The defence said JJ had been driving around drunk and suffering withdrawals from an opiate pain-medication prescription on the day he died.
‘She’d never seen him this out of control,’ the defence said.
And he added that, after arriving at Cara’s apartment, JJ had discovered saucy text messages from a man Cara had started dating.
The messages were in response to sexually explicit messages she’d sent earlier that day.
A row had broken out.
JJ had pinned Cara down and threatened, ‘I’m going to kill you… I’m going to bust you open so no man can want you again.’
The defence lawyer said JJ then stormed out, only to return minutes later.
That’s when Cara realised there was an intruder in her home, suspected it was JJ – but wasn’t certain.
Frightened, she closed her eyes, fired the shot.
‘She was defending herself,’ her defence lawyer said.
After deliberating for just two hours, the jury cleared Cara Ryan of second-degree murder.
Her lawyer Roger Futerman said, ‘We never doubted her innocence.’
‘It was a very quick verdict. I think they made up their minds early on that this woman should never have been arrested.’
But John Rush’s daughter Meghan has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cara.
Meghan, 23, seeks to hold Cara responsible for her father’s death and prevent her benefitting from any life insurance or other benefits under Florida’s ‘Slayer Statute’ – which prohibits individuals receiving income from the person they killed.