Former Wake teacher accused of killing husband testifies

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The former Wake County teacher accused of stabbing her husband to death in 2013 took the witness stand in her own defense Wednesday.

Joanna Madonna told the jury she fought back against her husband who was going to kill her otherwise.

For most of the day, she laid out a troubled timeline of her life. She told jurors she was adopted at a month old, her father was an alcoholic, and her mother told her she was ugly on the inside and out.

At age 5, Madonna said two of the neighbors' kids molested her and at 16 her adoptive parents kicked her out of the house. From there, she began a life filled with drugs and alcohol abuse.

Madonna explained she had her first child with a drug dealer she claims date raped her. She detailed two marriages in which she had two more daughters, both relationships that deteriorated and ended in divorce.

Then, she met Jose Perez at an AA meeting. At the time, they were both married but separated from their spouses. Madonna said her relationship with Perez started off platonic but quickly grew into something more, despite her finding Perez unattractive.

Jose Perez

Madonna described in depth the lies she said Perez told her before and during the marriage: that he had terminal cancer, had property in Puerto Rico he could sell to buy her and her three daughters a house in New York, hidden financial woes, and so on. She said eventually she uncovered the deceit, but stayed with him, saying she loved him. Anytime she talked about leaving, she told the jury Perez would threaten to kill himself.

Finally in June 2013, shortly after Madonna said she discovered he was cheating with a woman in Florida through a Facebook message she sent to Perez, she made up her mind to leave for good.

The day of the murder, Madonna said she drove to South Carolina to visit her nephew who had cancer; he was a weapon enthusiast and insisted she take one of his guns with her when she left.

Once back home in Wake County, Madonna said she planned to take Perez on a drive to his AA sponsor's house, and would tell him then she was getting a divorce.

"I told him that I knew he was drinking, I knew he was cheating, I was done with the lying and this time I'm not backing down this time," she told the court.

That's when Madonna said Perez began to panic, telling her he was going to have a heart attack and she needed to pull over.

When she got out of the car, she said Perez got his hands on that gun her nephew had given her, fired a shot at her and then turned the gun on himself. She said she ran to him, tried pulling the gun away, but it went off - striking Perez in the face.

"He's bleeding and he's screaming and he's bleeding on the ... spitting blood," she described.

"I felt completely it was my fault," she said. "It was absolutely my fault and I'm taking him to the hospital."
From there, Madonna said she tried driving Perez to get help, but he told her once more to pull the car over. She pulled over on Old Bayleaf Rd. and when they both got out, she said he attacked her.

"Whatever he did he knocked me in the chest and I fell back," she said.

"He basically jumped right on top of me and was holding me down," she said. "I'm feeling like I'm going to die at this point because I can't breathe."

Answering the defense attorney's question, she said she thought he was going to kill her.

Madonna said that's when Perez threatened to go after one of her daughters next, and she started to fight back, spotting a knife on the ground. She said she didn't know where it came from.

"I grabbed the knife and I started swinging at him," she said. "I just started swinging at him and I kept swinging at him until I felt like he wasn't holding me down anymore."

Madonna told the jury she didn't realize how many times she stabbed Perez, but even then, she didn't feel safe.

"I grabbed his shoes and I took his shoes off so that he wouldn't be able to run after me. And I threw his shoes in the woods and I threw the knife right there in the woods so that he couldn't get the knife and come after me."

Madonna said she got back in the car and drove home, leaving Perez there on the ground.

She said she didn't call 911 because she believed Perez was going to be well enough to get up and go to his AA sponsor's house.

Testimony resumes Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

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