LARGO — A jury found former teacher Cara Ryan not guilty of fatally shooting her ex-husband, a former St. Petersburg police officer, after two hours of deliberations Friday.
No one disputed that it was Ryan who pulled the trigger. But her lawyers argued that she shot Sgt. John "J.J." Rush in self-defense.
"We never doubted her innocence, from moment one," defense attorney Roger Futerman said. "It was a very quick verdict. I think they made their minds up early on that, that this woman should never have been arrested."
Ryan, 47, was on trial for second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence.
She was arrested in March 2015, days after her ex-husband was shot dead inside her Indian Rocks Beach home. The trial started last week.
Ryan and Rush had maintained an off-and-on relationship after their divorce in 2006. But in 2015, Rush ended things, prosecutors said. She was distressed and texted Rush, inviting him to her house.
During a visit, Rush saw a text on Ryan's phone from a detention deputy she had been dating. Prosecutors said Rush grew angry and left.
He returned moments later, and Ryan fired at him once with the .38-caliber pistol he had given her years before.
When Ryan called 911, she told a dispatcher her ex-husband had raped her. Prosecutors said she changed her version of what happened several times during interviews with Pinellas sheriff's investigators.
"The story is evolving," Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said during closing arguments. "It's evolving because she's trying to protect herself."
But Futerman and defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand told the jury she fired in self-defense.
Rush, Futerman said, pinned Ryan down and threatened her: "I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill him. I'm going to bust you open so no man can want you again."
When Rush came back into the home, Ryan suspected it was him but wasn't sure. She closed her eyes and fired her gun, Futerman said.
After the verdict Friday, Rush's loved ones spilled out of the courtroom, many of them in tears.
Futerman said the jury likely sided with their version of what led to Rush's death because prosecutors didn't present any evidence rebutting their argument that she fired in self-defense.
Now, he added, Ryan can focus on rebuilding her life.
"She's lost her job at the school, she's lost her dignity, she's lost her reputation, so even though she's acquitted, she's still suffering," he said.
"Once you get arrested in a case like this," Futerman added, "you can never recover."
Contact Laura C. Morel at email@example.com. Follow @lauracmorel.