RALEIGH, N.C. — Joanna Roberta Madonna acted in self-defense when she attacked her husband with a knife near Falls Lake in June 2013, her defense attorney told the jury Tuesday as her first-degree murder trial began.
"There was absolutely no reason for Joanna to want Jose dead," Crystal Grimes said. "She simply wanted a divorce, and because of his actions she had no other choice but to defend herself."
Grimes laid out Madonna's history of rape, alcoholism and single motherhood that preceded her partnership with Jose Manuel Perez. 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 hold of the knife, Grimes said, "She starts using it. She uses it until she can get up."
Grimes claimed her client left her husband injured but did not believe he was dead.
Prosecution in new DA's first
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.
Friend offers support for murder suspect
Madonna is not alone in the courtroom. Her good friend of four years, Kathy Bundy, is sitting right behind her.
“I told her I would be there, and I will,” Bundy said. “She's very kind. That's one of the things about her, she's always a listening ear.”
Bundy says she was shocked by Madonna's arrest.
“If I had to line up everybody I know, she'd be the last person that I would have thought this could have happened with,” Bundy said.
Since Madonna’s arrest, the women have exchanged phone calls and letters weekly.
“She's really found a lot of inner peace,” Bundy said. “Over the last two years she's had the chance to think about everything that happened and what brought her there.”
But even Bundy doesn't know what happened to Madonna's husband the night he was killed.
“Nobody knows how they would respond in any given situation unless they're in it,” she said.
No matter how the trial ends, Bundy says it’s heartbreaking.
“It's an awful thing for everyone involved – for his family, for her family. It's terrible,” she said.