NBC’s ‘Dateline: A Shot in the Dark’ chronicles how former St. Petersburg Police Department patrol officer, John ‘J.J.’ Rush, was killed in an Indian Rocks Beach apartment in Florida in March 2015. The investigators, prosecutors, and defense counsel had no doubt who committed the alleged murder, but the ordeal was to prove the intentions of the supposed killer. If you’re interested in knowing more about the case, we have your back. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did John “J.J.” Rush Die?
John ‘J.J.’ Rush worked in the forensic unit at the St. Petersburg Police Department of the Floridan coastal city in Tampa Bay. He married Cara Ryan, a Media Production Teacher at a Florida high school, in 1996. According to the show, they met when the former came to her class to help the students with a class project. Cara and John realized they had known each other since they were kids. A whirlwind romance began that culminated in their wedding in 1996, with John’s daughter from a previous marriage, Meghan Rush, being their flower girl.
Cara recounted, “She (Meghan) was icing on the cake. I was so happy to have a man who had a little girl.” However, the marriage did not last long, and they hit a massive bump around eight years later. According to the episode, Cara admitted to having an affair with the erstwhile principal of her school. She said that John blamed himself for the fling and their ensuing split, claiming he believed he was not there for her at the time. Cara also alleged he pursued her relentlessly in the year they got divorced.
Meanwhile, John suffered an unfortunate accident leading to his retirement from the police force. After being injured following an on-duty car crash in 2005, he was in too much pain to continue his duty as a patrol officer. Afterward, John went to work for the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office as an investigator. Yet, he and Cara were not apart for long and reconciled within a year of their 2006 divorce. She shared they had a chance meeting on a Floridan beach when she had just broken up with a former boyfriend.
Cara recalled John was at her Indian Rocks Beach apartment driveway within two days of their happenstance meet. She claimed he wanted to get back, and they were again in a relationship though they did not remarry. But their relationship immediately returned to the old days, with John initiating the breakup on February 15, 2015. He had just turned 45, and Cara was surprised when he told her he needed some space. According to the show, John had met a police sergeant named Lonnie Lancto and moved out in late February 2015.
John had been friends with Lonnie for years and allegedly became close to her when his relationship with Cara hit a dead end. The latter also moved on and started dating a detention deputy, Scott Holderbaum, after her separation from the police officer. It finally seemed their on-off relationship of nearly two decades was finally over when tragedy struck. Cara called 911 at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2015, and told the dispatcher that John had raped her and so she had ended up shooting him.
Who Killed John “J.J.” Rush?
Investigators arrived at Cara’s Indian Rocks Beach after 10:30 PM to find John’s body in front of her next-door neighbor’s doorstep. She claimed she was in bed at home two blocks from the beach around 10:05 PM. Cara was alone when she heard dogs growling and footsteps coming from outside. Afraid an intruder was inside the house, she clutched at her .38-caliber pistol, a gift from John years ago, and aimed for the alleged intruder. However, she was shocked to find it was her former husband.
A fatally injured John stumbled and died in front of the neighbor’s doorstep, with the latter afraid to open the front door in case more gunshots were fired. According to his autopsy, the bullet entered his left arm and traveled into his chest. Sergeant Joe Pratt, who had worked with John, said he was stunned that his friend, who had survived working a dangerous job, was ultimately killed at home. But the story would continually change over the following few days, from an accident to an act of self-defense.
After the police arrived, Cara was handcuffed and put into a patrol car, where she told one of the deputies that she required medical attention. The police uncuffed her and took her to the police headquarters, where they arranged for an examination at a rape crisis center. Yet, the reports were inconclusive, and that was when Cara changed her story. She admitted to sending John a sexually explicit message, inviting him to come to her house for alleged “breakup sex.”
While John and Cara were being intimate, he noticed a text from her lover, Scott, on her phone and allegedly lost his cool. According to the show, he became violent and sexually assaulted her, calling her names and slutshaming her. He even reportedly threatened to kill her and Scott as he stormed out of the house. Afraid John might do something serious, Cara called him and apologized, stating she and Scott had nothing serious going on. A few minutes later, she heard John slamming the door and entering the house, storming up the stairs.
Cara alleged she was afraid he would hurt him and fatally shot his former husband — admitting she knew who the intruder was. Then 45, she was charged with second-degree murder, and her bond was initially set at $500,000. The judge later halved the bond amount, and she could have received a life sentence if found guilty. Cara went to trial in January 2017. The prosecution alleged she was controlling to the extent that John was not allowed to possess a bank account, and all his earnings were deposited in an account she regulated.
The prosecutors claimed Cara feared losing control after John took her off his bank account two days before the alleged murder. On the other hand, her defense counsel asserted he was spiraling out of control due to an alleged oxycodone addiction, had anger management issues, and she shot him in self-defense. The jury eventually sided with Cara, stating the prosecution could not prove her crime beyond doubt, and she was acquitted of all charges.
Read More: Cara Ryan: Where is J.J. Rush’s Wife Now?