Local News

Knife, bloody T-shirt shown during former teacher's murder trial

Posted September 16, 2015 8:54 a.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2015 2:59 p.m. EDT

— During the first-degree murder trial Wednesday of a former Wake County school teacher accused of killing her husband, crime scene investigators showed jurors a bloody T-shirt found in a trash can belonging to Joanna Roberta Madonna and a knife found near the victim's body.

Madonna, 48, has admitted to killing her husband, Jose Manuel Perez, 64, but claims it was in self-defense, telling investigators Perez was abusive and had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

A passerby found Perez's body in a ditch near Falls Lake in June 2013. An autopsy showed he died of multiple stab wounds to his head, neck, chest and back.

Madonna kept her head down and eyes closed Wednesday as a crime scene investigator showed jurors pictures of Perez's body and described his injuries.

"The deceased was laying faced down in a ditch ... and his shirt was pulled up over his head," the investigator said.

A K-9 officer testified that his dog located a bloody knife stuck in the ground in a wooded area about 75 feet from Perez's body. Investigators said they also found blood in Perez's jeep which was parked in the couple's garage, as well as a bullet fragment and part of a denture.

During opening statements Tuesday, Madonna's defense attorney, Crystal Grimes, told jurors that "there was absolutely no reason for Joanna to want Jose dead. She simply wanted a divorce, and because of his actions she had no other choice but to defend herself."

Grimes described Madonna's partnership with Jose Manuel Perez and said the pair met in an alcohol recovery program and became friends first. Perez eventually left his wife for Madonna. They were married for about four years, Grimes said, before Madonna began to suspect Perez was lying, drinking and had been unfaithful.

"While he was never physically violent, he was very controlling and very jealous," Grimes said.

After a visit to family, Madonna worked up the nerve to ask her husband for a separation. He responded with threats, her defense attorney said, and that led to a scuffle.

"He had a firearm. He shot it twice, luckily she wasn't hurt," Grimes said.

The couple struggled.

"She's thinking every breath is her last," Grimes said. "She knew she had to fight back or she was going to die."

Once Madonna got ahold of the knife, Grimes said, "she starts using it" until she could get away from Perez. Grimes claimed her client left her husband injured but did not believe he was dead.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, in her first prosecution since taking office in January and her first criminal prosecution in more than 10 years, told jurors that Madonna stabbed her husband a dozen times, then threw his clothes and even his wedding ring in the trash.

She described the deceased as a Vietnam veteran who, despite poor health, tried to help other recovering alcoholics. The trial is expected to run into next week.