Trial begins for Wake County teacher accused of killing husband

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Joanna Madonna in court

Lawyers made their opening statements Tuesday in the trial of a former Wake County teacher accused of killing her husband.

Twelve jurors and two alternates were seated Tuesday morning, less than a day after jury selection began.

Joanna Madonna, 48, was charged on Father's Day weekend in 2013 with the murder of the 64-year-old Jose Perez.

Jose Perez


She has been in jail since then.

In her opening statement, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told jurors she would show them how "On the day of the murder, [Madonna] planned a date with a man whom she had recently started a romantic relationship, and how on the next day, the following day after which Mr. Perez was killed, she in fact went on a date."

According to search warrants in the case released soon after Perez's death, Madonna "...admitted to killing Jose Perez and claimed to have had to use a pistol and knife to kill him in defense of herself."

In her opening statement, Madonna's attorney told jurors that both Perez and Madonna were recovering alcoholics. Crystal Grimes said Perez had begun drinking again, was emotionally abusive, and Madonna wanted a divorce.

But when Madonna told him that during a trip to run errands she claims he became belligerent, grabbed a knife, cut her, and jumped on her chest.

"In that instant, she knew that she had to fight back or she was going to die. She had never seen someone in so much rage. And by then, luckily, Jose had dropped the knife and she picked it up and she started using it. And she used it, quite frankly, until she could get up," said Grimes.

Although Madonna is said to have claimed she killed Perez in self-defense, investigators have pointed out in the search warrant that she didn't call police when she felt threatened or to report killing her husband.

They said she left his body lying in the area of Old Bayleaf Road and Highway 98, and when confronted initially, told investigators she didn't know where her husband was.

Grimes told jurors Tuesday that Madonna drove away thinking he was still alive and would go to the home of his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.

Authorities said she told them the 64-year old left on foot with a suitcase to have an affair with another woman and had been hanging out with drug users.

According to officials, it was her children who provided police with early information that made her the prime suspect in the case.

Madonna reportedly worked as a translator for a Raleigh law firm. Prior to her arrest, Wake County Schools confirmed Madonna worked for the district as a substitute teacher from March 2009 to March 2013. She spent the entire 2011-2012 school year as a full-time Spanish teacher. She spent the last three months before leaving in March, as a special education teacher at Garner High School.

Related Stories:

-Warrant: Affair may have been motive for Wake County murder

-Woman facing murder charges in Falls Lake death

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