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Former Pinellas teacher acquitted in ex-husband's slaying faces wrongful death lawsuit

Cara Ryan, a former Clearwater High School teacher, was acquitted of second-degree murder in January in the 2015 shooting death of her ex-husband. Now the daughter of former St. Petersburg police Sgt. John "J.J." Rush is suing her in civil court. [SCOTT KEELER   |   TIMES]
Cara Ryan, a former Clearwater High School teacher, was acquitted of second-degree murder in January in the 2015 shooting death of her ex-husband. Now the daughter of former St. Petersburg police Sgt. John "J.J." Rush is suing her in civil court. [SCOTT KEELER | TIMES]
Published Mar. 24, 2017

Two months ago, a jury acquitted Cara Ryan of murdering her ex-husband, a former St. Petersburg police officer.

But Ryan may go to court again for the 2015 shooting — this time because of wrongful death lawsuit recently filed by the daughter of Sgt. John "J.J." Rush.

Meghan Rush's attorney, Christian Waugh, said it's a chance for the 23-year-old to find closure in the 2015 slaying of her father.

"Our point and our job with this lawsuit is to get what justice we can," Waugh said.

Ryan, 47, did not return calls for comment Thursday. Attorney Roger Futerman, who represented her during the criminal trial, said: "Just because you file a lawsuit, doesn't mean it's going to prevail."

The former Clearwater High School teacher was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder, accused of fatally shooting Rush at her Indian Rocks Beach apartment on March 7, 2015. During her trial, defense attorneys said she shot her husband in self-defense. Prosecutors argued that the shooting was intentional, and that afterward Ryan changed her story about what happened several times.

After two hours of deliberation, a jury sided with Ryan and found her not guilty on Jan. 27.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on March 6 and seeks to hold Ryan responsible for John Rush's death. It also seeks to bar Ryan from claiming any of her ex-husband's life insurance and other benefits under a Florida law called the "Slayer Statute" that prohibits one from receiving income from the person they killed.

The couple married in 1997 and then divorced in 2006, but continued to date and stayed friends in later years. Josh Rush's daughter, Meghan, is from a previous marriage. He had retired from the police force as a sergeant in the forensic unit and started working as an investigator with the medical examiner.

Ryan, according to the lawsuit, "exerted great control and influence of (John) Rush's actions."

In February 2015, John Rush told Ryan he was breaking up with her and moving out of their home — this time for good. Still, he occasionally checked in on her and made repairs at the apartment.

Prosecutors and the lawsuit chronicle the same time line of the murder:

On March 7, John Rush came over to the apartment at 2601 1st Street after Ryan texted him. While he was there, the lawsuit states, she received a text from another man, so John Rush left. Ryan called him six times, and John Rush returned to her house. Moments later, she shot him in the back.

He stumbled out of the apartment seeking help from a neighbor. In her 911 call to dispatchers, Ryan said he had raped her.

"The one thing that Defendant could not change by story-telling, however, was the death of J.J. Rush," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also claimed that Ryan may be receiving Rush's pension, roughly $1,500 a month, as well as life insurance benefits. As her father's heir, the lawsuit said the funds should be distributed to Meghan Rush.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

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