Jury convicts former Wake County teacher in husband's death
Posted September 28, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — After about three hours of deliberations, a Wake County jury on Monday convicted Joanna Madonna, a former Wake County teacher, guilty of first-degree murder in the June 2013 stabbing death of her husband, Jose Perez.
Madonna showed little emotion when the verdict was read, but her oldest daughter, Rachel Lopez, 22, who was behind her in the courtroom, broke down in tears and was quickly escorted out.
Jose Perez's daughter, Vanessa Gant, made a tearful statement to the court following the verdict.
"Nothing will bring my dad back, the time taken away from me, from my children. May God have mercy on you," said Gant.
Immediately following the verdict, the judge sentenced Madonna to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"They [the jury] had a lot of evidence to consider but they had a break between the end of evidence and when we started back today with closings," said Wake County District Attorney, Lorrin Freeman."I think they had some time to think about what they wanted to do in this case and certainly we felt like the evidence was very strong."
On Monday morning, defense attorney Deonte Thomas argued that Madonna made a key mistake after stabbing her husband.
"She should have picked up the phone and called police," he told jurors in his closing argument.
"If she had done that one simple thing, would we even be here right now? Everything she says matches the evidence," he said, before stepping the jury through the list of injuries Perez suffered.
Over about an hour and a half, Thomas described what he called a series of poor choices by a woman who had a lifelong history of the same.
"We heard over and over that Mrs. Madonna had a pattern of making the wrong call," Thomas said, referring to her testimony about multiple failed marriages and struggles with drug and alcohol abuse.
Madonna, 48, admitted to stabbing Perez, 64, but claims she acted in self-defense.
Lopez testified that she saw her mother and stepfather leave the house together on June 15, 2013, and her mother return alone.
Lopez said she suggested calling police, but her mother declined.
Madonna initially told investigators and friends that her husband had moved to Florida, but she admitted on the stand that was a lie.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Shandles pointed to that and other contradictions in Madonna's story, repeating, "She can't have it both ways."
"She says she couldn’t stand Jose for his lies but has admitted to you that she has lied and lied and lied and lied but wants you to believe her now," Shandles said.
Shandles argued that Madonna had simply run out of patience with her older, ailing husband.
"All Jose was to her was a sick, old man with no money who wouldn’t die," Shandles said. "Jose Perez was a ultimate victim of domestic violence in this case, at the hands of this woman."
Madonna's defense team characterized her series of choices designed to cover up the death of her husband as mistakes.
"She was reacting to this thing like it was a hostile break up," Thomas said, citing testimony that she gathered her husband's clothing and threw it in the trash.
"If she planned this, she would have done better clean-up, a better cover-up," he said.
At issue in the case is whether Perez would have been able to physically assault his wife as she claims. A doctor testified that Perez was in such bad health, it would have been "a real challenge" for him to attack her.
Dr. Robert Falge, a Raleigh doctor who treated Perez, said he had numerous health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, chronic back pain and other serious ailments. His health was so bad, Falge said, that he could barely hold a fork or walk without assistance, let alone hold a gun and take part in a fight.
Thomas countered that testimony with a picture of a vibrant Perez who worked in his yard and enjoyed time with grandchildren.
"His health looked bad on paper, but he had strength to attack his wife," he said.
"Her story doesn't fit the evidence you have heard," Shandles countered.
She described Madonna's Internet searches, first for information about spousal benefits available through the Department of Veterans Affairs and then for information about weapons.
Madonna realized, Shandles said, that she had not been married to Perez long enough to claim spousal benefits if the marriage were to end.
"So, she started looking online for other ways to handle the problem she had," Shandles said.
Before closing arguments began, the judge affirmed that Madonna had given her defense team permission to ask the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of five to seven years in prison.