Ex-wife charged in shooting death of former St. Petersburg police sergeant

The teacher and the forensic investigator were in an on-and-off romantic relationship.

Published March 13 2015
Updated March 14 2015

After an eight-year intermittent romantic relationship with his ex-wife, authorities say, John "J.J." Rush finally felt free.

The former St. Petersburg police sergeant decided last month that it was time to cut ties with Cara A. Ryan, who sought to keep tight control over her 45-year-old ex-husband, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday. Last month, he moved out of the Indian Rocks Beach apartment he shared with the Clearwater High School teacher. Last week, he took her name off a bank account they shared.

"By all accounts, she was upset over that and upset over the fact that he was exerting his independence," Gualtieri said.

Last Saturday night, Ryan sent a sexually explicit text message to Rush inviting him to her Indian Rocks Beach apartment and, at some point after he arrived, fatally shot him. On Friday, detectives arrested Ryan, 45, and charged her with second-degree murder.

"We believe Cara was acting out because she was losing control over him, and she knew she was losing control over him," the sheriff said at a news conference in Largo.

Investigators don't think Ryan lured Rush to the apartment with the intent to kill him, but the State Attorney's Office could change the charges after further investigation, Gualtieri said. Ryan sent the text message at 9:40 p.m. and Rush arrived at 2601 First St. moments later. A neighbor heard a gunshot at 10:15.

Ryan told detectives at least 10 different versions of what happened the night of the killing, Gualtieri said.

Ryan first said she shot Rush because he was raping her, a claim the physical evidence doesn't support, Gualtieri said. In another version, she said Rush left the apartment after they argued. As she lay in bed a short time later she saw the hand of an unknown intruder and fired the .38-caliber pistol she kept by the bed.

In the last version, Gualtieri said, Ryan said Rush left and came back into the apartment. He was upset, she said, so she shot him and "he didn't have a chance."

After the shooting, Rush staggered next door, told a neighbor to call 911 and collapsed on the porch. The single shot went through his left arm, piercing his heart, Gualtieri said. He was fully clothed, his boots still on.

"There's absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any type of a sexual assault," Gualtieri said.

Ryan was booked into the Pinellas County Jail about 3:45 p.m. Friday and was being held without bail, records show. She has been a teacher for 24 years, and at Clearwater High since 2009. A spokeswoman for Pinellas schools said Ryan has been on personal leave since Monday.

Rush was hired in March 1990 at the St. Petersburg Police Department, where he held various positions through the years, including a stint on the DUI unit and later in community policing. He retired in 2005 as a sergeant assigned to the forensics unit and the same year was hired by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office, where he worked as a forensic investigator. He would have celebrated his 10th anniversary at the job this week.

Rush and Ryan married in 1997 and divorced in 2006. He has a 21-year-old daughter, Meghan, from a previous marriage. A GoFundMe page that Meghan Rush created to pay for his funeral had raised more than $5,600 by Friday night.

Gualtieri said Ryan was so controlling that she demanded to see receipts when he spent money. After he took her name off the bank account, he relished the chance to buy his daughter a dress for a job interview without Ryan looking over his shoulder.

"He felt free, he felt ecstatic, he felt relieved from the pressure because he was actually able to go out and live his life," the sheriff said.

Ryan had been dating a detention deputy for the Sheriff's Office, Gualtieri said. On Friday, her Facebook profile photo was of her and Rush, sitting on a sandy dune and staring into each other's eyes.

Times staff writer Keyonna Summers contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.