Joanna Madonna fought to swallow her emotions when her oldest daughter stepped up to the witness stand in Wake County Superior Court.
It was the third day of a murder trial in which there are two competing narratives about how Jose Perez, the husband of Madonna for four years, ended up dead in a ditch near Falls Lake.
As Rachel Lopez, Madonna's 22-year-old daughter, settled into her seat on the witness stand, tears welled in her mother's eyes and her chin quivered.
Lopez, Madonna's first-born with a man she never married, is in college now at Shaw University, studying social work.
Lopez began testifying at the end of a day of wide-ranging testimony — from how Madonna got a knife and handgun from Rachel Lopez's cousin to a doctor's claims that Jose Perez had such limited use of his hands that it would have been difficult for him to hold a thin knife or gun.
She gave broad-brush to nearly two decades of family life that included at least one other stepfather and a bit of description for what life was like with Jose Lopez in their Wakefield home on School House Street.
Though Lopez said she got along with Jose Perez and enjoyed using his veteran benefits to help with her college expenses, she said she sometimes heard him arguing with her mother. There also was friction between Jose Perez and her middle sister. But Perez often helped with her 10-year-old sister, taking her to school and therapy in the afternoon.
Lopez described her mother as busy and energetic — a woman who had worked in a law firm, taught school and worked with a veterinarian.
The family lived in New York before moving to North Carolina. They lived in Rolesville before moving to Wake Forest and eventually Wakefield in northern Wake County.
Lopez described Perez as someone who helped her grandfather, who also lived with them, with yard work, cooking and other activities.
Earlier in the day, a doctor from a local VA hospital told jurors that Jose Perez, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran, was so hampered by illness and poor health that he had limited use of his hands.
The defense team contends Madonna unknowingly stabbed her husband to death in an attempt to protect herself after he wielded a gun that was fired at least twice.
Dr. Robert Falge, a primary care physician who sees patients at the Durham VA Medical Center, said Perez had to use special forks and spoons. The doctor also said he doubted Perez could hold a thin knife.
Perez and Madonna met in an alcohol treatment program when she was married to a second husband. Madonna, according to the defense team, also struggled from alcoholism and substance abuse issues that began to plague her as a teen. She moved out of her family home before finishing high school, according to the defense, and lived on the streets for a while.
During that time, the attorneys said, she was raped at least twice. As her mother was dying, the defense said, Madonna returned home at her father's request and finished high school. Throughout her adult life, Madonna and her father occasionally shared a household. Her father had moved to North Carolina, where he lived out the remainder of his life.
Shortly before her husband's death, prosecutors contend that Madonna began a new romantic relationship. Defense attorneys contend that she thought Perez had been cheating on her and started drinking and using drugs again.
On Wednesday and Thursday, former in-laws of Madonna testified that she came to visit South Carolina shortly before Perez's death and their son, who had an extensive weapons collection — swords, knives and guns, gave her a handgun and a knife to take with her to North Carolina.
Madonna, according to the South Carolina witnesses, told them there had been break-ins in her neighborhood and she was scared.
Prosecutors have said, though, that no break-ins occurred.
In cross-examination of Dr. Falge, the defense team pointed out that Perez was able to use his hands to give himself the insulin injections he needed because of his diabetes. Perez also suffered from cancer before his death and other health problems related to his substance abuse problems.
Perez suffered multiple stab wounds, according to a medical examiner, and likely died quickly from his wounds.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.