Murder and attempted rape charges have been filed against suspect Rosendo Xo Pec in the New Year's Day death of Betty Jane Willis. Photo: Santa Ana Police Department
Murder and attempted rape charges have been filed against suspect Rosendo Xo Pec in the New Year’s Day death of Betty Jane Willis. Photo: Santa Ana Police Department

A 22-year-old man was charged Wednesday with capital murder for the killing of a 76-year-old transient woman — a former soul singer — on New Year’s Day in Santa Ana.

Rosendo Xo Pec is accused of killing Betty Jane Willis, who was a singer in the 1960s known for recordings including “Someday You’ll Need My Love,” “Act Naturally” and “Take My Heart.”

Pec is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Santa Ana.

The murder charge against him includes a special circumstance allegation of murder during an attempted rape. Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said there’s no indication Pec knew Willis, initially leading to speculation the attack was an attempted robbery.

Police received multiple 911 calls as Willis shouted for help as she was being attacked about 4:10 a.m. Monday in a parking lot at 1605 W. First St., according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

The attack happened near a homeless encampment, Bertagna said.

A cause of death has not been released, pending an autopsy.

Officers arrived at the crime scene within a few minutes, and when they got there they saw Pec “hiding in the bushes,” Bertagna said.

The suspect ran from the officers “and he tried to go over a wall, but officers were able to detain him,” Bertagna said.

Pec said he lives in the area, but detectives were working to determine a place of residence, Bertagna said.

Willis’ relatives were “working diligently to get her off the streets” at the time of her death, Bertagna said.

–City News Service

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