A homeless man was charged with killing former 1960s soul singer Betty Jane Willis during an attempted rape in California on New Year’s Day.
Rosendo Xo Pec, 22, was charged Wednesday with murder with special circumstances and could face the death penalty. His arraignment is slated for Jan. 19.
Prosecutors identified the woman killed in the Santa Ana strip mall parking lot as Willis, who was homeless at the time of her death.
Willis, 76, recorded the 1960s songs “Someday You’ll Need My Love,” “Act Naturally” and “Take My Heart.”
The former crooner was sleeping in the parking lot when Pec began sexually assaulting her, prosecutors said. When she screamed for help, prosecutors said Pec repeatedly punched her in the head and choked her to stop her screams.
A bystander called police to alert them to the alleged assault and when officers arrived they found Pec with “his pants down on top of the victim,” ABC 7 reported. The homeless man attempted to flee but was captured by officers. The former singer died at the scene.
Willis worked at the Santa Ana post office following her singing career but appeared to have gone through hardships and became homeless, ABC 7 reported. During her career, Willis recorded collaborations with the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley and Leon Russell.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.