Local News

Madonna trial turns on question: Mistakes or malice?

Posted September 28, 2015 6:14 a.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2015 1:34 p.m. EDT

— Joanna Madonna made a key mistake after stabbing her husband, defense attorney Deonte Thomas argued Monday.

"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 Jose Perez suffered.

Prosecutors hope the jury will convict Madonna of first-degree murder in the death of Perez. Her defense lawyers say she had no intentions of killing her husband.

Over about an hour and a half Monday morning, 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's oldest daughter, Rachel Lopez, 22, 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, 48, admits to stabbing Perez, 64, but claims she acted in self-defense.

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.