Local News

Former teacher says she killed husband in self defense

Posted September 23, 2015 6:54 a.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2015 11:12 a.m. EDT

— A former Wake County teacher accused of murdering her husband testified at her own trial Wednesday, telling jurors she didn't plan to kill her husband but that she had to, to protect herself.

Joanna Madonna described her late husband as a jealous man who lied to her about money and threatened to commit suicide anytime she tried to leave him.

She also talked about her difficult childhood, including growing up with with an alcoholic father, a verbally abusive mother and being molested by neighborhood teenagers when she was 5.

Madonna said she eventually dropped out of high school, was kicked out of her parents' house and turned to drugs and alcohol. She was also raped several times by different men, she said.

Madonna, 48, is on trial for the June 2013 death of her third husband, Jose Perez, 64. She has admitted to killing him but claims it was in self-defense, telling investigators Perez was abusive and had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Madonna has said her husband attacked her with a gun, but the gun went off, hitting him, and he became enraged and tried to strangle her. She says that's when she fought back.

Prosecutors say Madonna stabbed her husband a dozen times, leaving him to die in a ditch near Falls Lake, and then threw away his clothes and her wedding ring.

Police and sheriff's investigators testified that they suspected Madonna had killed her husband, in part, because of her reaction to the news of his death.

"She immediately covered her face, fell to the ground, on the ground sobbing," Detective Brian Gay, with the Wake County Sheriff's Office, said Monday.

When pressed though, Gay said he didn't see her shed any tears.

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

Madonna first told investigators that her husband had moved to Florida, but her oldest daughter said the couple left the house together on the night of his death and that Madonna returned alone.

"She was on the phone. She was kind of sweaty, and she had a cut on her arm," Rachel Lopez, 22, told jurors last week. "I asked her what was wrong. I could tell she was upset. She was just saying, 'It's OK. It's OK ... I asked her again, 'Mom, what happened?' She said, 'Jose got upset with me, and he took out his knife and cut my arm.'"

Lopez said she suggested calling police "in case Jose comes back," but Madonna said no and told her daughter, "It's OK. He's not coming here.'"