The fact that Cara Alane Ryan fired the fatal shots that spring Saturday in 2015 is not in question. The reason she shot John Joseph “J.J.” Rush is the issue, and a Pinellas County jury took just two hours to decide that she acted in self defense.
Represented by Bjorn Brunvand and Roger D. Futerman, the 47-year-old former teacher was facing a sentence of up to life in prison should the jury find that she was guilty of the charge of second-degree murder. From their opening statement, Brunvand and Futerman brought to the attention of the jury the fact that Rush was intoxicated and suffering from withdrawals the day she shot him. They characterized the retired St. Petersburg police sergeant as “out of control” and an intimidating, unpredictable slave to his drug addiction.
The duo went on to explain that Ryan and Rush had been in an on-and-off relationship since they divorced in 2006, at least until the day after St. Valentine’s Day that year, when Rush decided to break off the relationship for good. Ryan was devastated, they said, taking up antidepressants and taking a week off from teaching at Clearwater High in an effort to cope with the loss.
Rush kept the relationship at arm’s length until Ryan allegedly sent a sexually-explicit text message to him with an invitation to come to her apartment. However, instead of an amorous encounter, they say Rush observed similarly explicit messages she exchanged with a detention deputy with whom she was in a relationship and became angry. In his rage he pinned her down and threatened to kill both her and the other deputy as well, saying he would “bust [Ryan] open so no man can want [her] again” before storming out.
Rush returned moments later, barging in uninvited. Ryan says she didn’t know who the intruder was, but she suspected it was Rush. Fearing that he may make good on his rage-filled promise, Ryan raised the .38 pistol Rush purchased for her years before, closed her eyes, and squeezed the trigger. The bullet struck his left arm, passing through it, and entered his chest.
Mortally wounded, Rush retreated to a neighbor’s home, and the neighbor called 9-1-1. Ryan also phoned the emergency number, saying that her ex-husband raped her, a claim she maintained throughout the investigation.
Although detectives allege that her story changed in subsequent interviews, Brunvand and Futerman informed the jury that Rush knew the lead investigator on a professional basis. They also questioned whether the responding officer properly informed Ryan of her rights at the time of her arrest, and pointed out the fact that he left Ryan in the back of a police cruiser for three straight hours before arranging to have her examined for sexual assault – long enough for her to resort to relieving herself on the floor of the vehicle.
Ryan, a twenty-year veteran of the Pinellas County School System, now faces the daunting task of rebuilding her life and reputation. She does so with the support of friends and loved ones, many of whom were in attendance for some or all of the eight-day trial.
The Law Offices of Bjorn Brunvand have been representing people charged with capital murder, felony drug charges, drunk driving, government fraud, and white-collar crimes for over a quarter century. Contact our office today to discuss your Tampa Bay-area state or federal charges.