Local News

Madonna's messages back her story that husband planned to leave

Posted September 22, 2015 11:13 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2015 6:18 p.m. EDT

In the days before and after her husband died, Joanna Madonna established her alibi. She told family and friends that 64-year-old Jose Manual Perez had started drinking again after decades of sobriety, was doing drugs and had threatened her.

Jurors considering the first-degree murder charge against Madonna heard witnesses Tuesday who described the messages she sent – both in person and via text, email and over the phone – about her fear of Perez and their planned separation.

Michael Brookreson, of the Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification, described searches run on the family computer about filing for separation and life insurance survivor benefits.

Perez's adult daughter, Vanessa Gantt, said Madonna texted her that "he was hanging out with people who were drinking and doing drugs. He needed to leave.

"That was unusual," Gantt said. "That was not his character."

Madonna, a former special education teacher in Wake County public schools, initially told investigators that her husband left their home at 12412 Schoolhouse St., on June 15, 2013, with a suitcase and an intention to move to Florida.

Brookreson said a Facebook page that appeared to be Perez's profile was updated the day after his death with that same message. He read an email in which she asked a friend to put a lock and chain on her door. "Now I feel vulnerable," the email read.

That friend, David Whitcomb, asked by the prosecuting attorney, recalled the message, but chuckled at the idea of Perez as a violent man.

"Jose's a little guy," he said, using an obscenity to describe what Madonna would do if he had tried to hurt her.

Madonna eventually admitted to stabbing her husband but said she did so in self-defense.

Dr. Robert Falge, a Raleigh doctor who treated Perez, told jurors last week that his health was so bad he could barely hold a fork or walk without assistance, let alone hold a gun and take part in a fight.

When investigators came to tell Madonna they had found her husband's body, her daughter, Rachel, quickly disavowed her mother's version of events, telling investigators that the couple left the house together on the night of his death, and that only her mother returned, injured and sweaty.

Gantt said she was especially surprised by Madonna's claim that her father had started drinking again.

"I don't remember ever seeing him have a drink of alcohol," Gantt said, noting that her father was a long-time participant in Alcoholics Anonymous.

At Perez's funeral, Gantt said, mourners mentioned how he had helped them in AA. "Someone left a chip in his ashes," she said. "He never fell off the wagon."

The state wrapped up its case Tuesday afternoon with detailed testimony from Wake County Sheriff's Detective Darcy Weaver, who notified Madonna of her husband's death after visiting the crime scene where his body was found.

Madonna's reaction to the news was to call an attorney, Weaver said.

"It was odd because her husband's dead and she's calling an attorney," she said. "That made me think perhaps she had something to do with it."

Weaver then read from text messages exchanged between Madonna and her former therapist, John Chadwick Richardson, whom she called Chad. The messages ranged from the mundane – wishing each other good morning or good night – to the flirtatious.

In his testimony last week, Richardson admitted that the two had kissed, and that Madonna came to him the day after she killed Perez.