Santa Ana murder: Man sentenced to life without parole in killing of 76-year-old former soul singer

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Saturday, September 30, 2023
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SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A homeless man has been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in connection with the murder of a 76-year-old former soul singer in Santa Ana on New Year's Day in 2018, prosecutors said.

Betty Jane Willis, who recorded songs that included "Someday You'll Need My Love," ''Act Naturally" and "Take My Heart" in the 1960s, was killed while she was sleeping in a Santa Ana strip mall, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

It took a jury an hour on Thursday to find Rosendo Xo Pec, 28, guilty of one count of first-degree murder with the special circumstance allegation of attempted rape, a news release said.

Willis had worked with a number of prominent musicians, including Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and pianist and songwriter Leon Russell. After retiring from the Santa Ana post office following her singing career, Willis became homeless and was living on the streets of Santa Ana, the D.A.'s office said in a statement.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2018, Santa Ana police responded to a 911 call that reported a woman who was yelling for help. When police arrived at a strip mall in the 1600 block of West 1st Street, "they found Pec hiding and then running away from Willis, who was lying on the ground," the news release said.

According to prosecutors, Pec attempted to sexually assault Willis while she was sleeping and then punched and strangled her.

"This woman had the voice of an absolute angel and it is a travesty that her voice was forever silenced in such a brutal way," said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. "No one should have to suffer the indignity and disrespect she suffered in her final moments. I'm thankful the jury quickly and decisively determined that this individual was guilty of this horrific murder and that he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole."