A 22-year-old homeless man was charged Wednesday in the murder and attempted rape of a 76-year-old woman who was sleeping in a strip mall parking lot in Santa Ana.
The woman was identified as 1960s soul singer Betty Jane Willis, who recorded the songs “Someday You’ll Need My Love,” “Act Naturally” and “Take My Heart.”
In the early morning hours on New Year’s Day, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office, Rosendo Xo Pec approached Willis and removed her blanket before sexually assaulting her.
Prosecutors allege that Pec punched her multiple times in the head and choked her when she cried for help.
A witness called 911 after hearing someone yelling for help. When officers arrived, Pec had his pants down and was on top of the woman, who was unresponsive, authorities said.
Pec attempted to escape, but police arrested him soon after.
Willis was pronounced dead at the scene. Her cause of death remains under investigation.
Pec was charged with one felony count of murder, with the special circumstance allegation that he carried out the crime during a rape.
If convicted, he faces a maximum of life in state prison without the possibility of parole.