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Man sentenced to life in prison for killing ’60s soul singer

A homeless man who was convicted of killing an elderly woman on New Year’s Day while attempting to rape her has been sentenced to life in prison, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Rosendo Xo Pec, 28, was found guilty of killing 76-year-old Betty Jane Willis, a former soul singer in the 1960s on Jan. 1, 2018, at a strip mall in Santa Ana.

Willis was a recording artist in the 1960s, working with prominent artists of the time, including Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and pianist and songwriter Leon Russell. As a solo act, Willis recorded several songs, including “Someday You’ll Need My Love,” “Act Naturally,” and “Take My Heart.”

After falling on hard times, Willis became homeless and began living on the streets of Santa Ana, the DA’s Office said.

Rosendo Xo Pec is shown in a booking photo released by Santa Ana police on Jan. 1, 2018.

Willis was killed by Pec as he attempted to rape her in the parking lot of a strip mall on the 1600 block of W. 1st Street. Pec punched Willis multiple times and strangled her as she tried to scream for help, investigators said.

At the time of his arrest, police said Pec’s pants were down and he was on top of the unconscious woman. He apparently attempted to flee but was apprehended quickly.

Willis was pronounced dead at the scene.

Despite being arrested at the time of Willis’ death and being formally charged in her murder days later, it took several years for the case to go to trial.

Pec was found guilty of killing Willis earlier this month after a jury deliberated the case for only an hour, the DA’s Office said.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer described Willis’ death as a travesty and said she had the “voice of an absolute angel” that was silenced brutally.

“No one should have to suffer the indignity and disrespect she suffered in her final moments,” Spitzer said. “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.”

Pec, who was 22 when he killed Willis, was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder with the special circumstance allegation of attempted rape. He will serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

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