Homeless man charged with killing former '60s soul singer Betty Jane Willis

Rosendo Xo Pec 

Santa Ana police

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A homeless man has been charged with killing former 1960s soul singer Betty Jane Willis during an attempted rape. Rosendo Xo Pec, 22, was charged Wednesday with murder with special circumstances and could face the death penalty.

The 76-year-old Willis recorded the 1960s songs "Someday You'll Need My Love," ''Act Naturally" and "Take My Heart" before leaving the music business. She was living on the street when she was attacked shortly after 4 a.m. on New Year's Day. 

Prosecutors say she was sleeping in a strip mall parking lot in Santa Ana near a homeless encampment when Pec began sexually assaulting her.

When she screamed for help, prosecutors say Pec repeatedly punched her in the head and choked her to stop her screams. She died at the scene.

Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said there's no indication Pec knew Willis, reports CBS Los Angeles.

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.

The murder charge against him includes a special circumstance allegation of murder during an attempted rape, the station reports. It's unclear whether he has an attorney. 

Willis never gained widespread commercial success as a singer and left her career to raise her daughter in Orange County, reports the OC Register. She worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Santa Ana before retiring in the 1990s. She had been living on the streets in southwest Santa Ana for more than a decade by her own choice, a family member told the paper.