Authorities in California have said that a 22-year-old transient man faces life in prison without the possibility of parole after he was accused by police of beating to death a homeless woman he was attempting to rape.

Rosendo Xo Pec was arraigned on Wednesday 3 January for the fatal attack that took place in the early hours of 1 January. Pec was charged with one count of murder with an enhanced sentence due to the alleged attempted rape.

In a news release from Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas, authorities said that Pec was accused of approaching 76-year-old Betty Jane Willis around 4:15am while she slept in the parking lot of a strip mall in Santa Ana.

Authorities said that Pec took off the homeless Willis's blanket and sexually assaulted her as he attempted to rape her. When Willis began to scream, authorities accuse Pec of punching her multiple times in the head and choking her to stop her from yelling out.

Police and medical personnel responded to the incident when a witness called emergency services. When officers arrived Pec allegedly had his trousers down and was on top of the victim. Authorities said that Pec was accused of attempting to evade capture by law enforcement but that he was quickly arrested.

Willis was pronounced dead at the scene with the cause of her death under investigation. According to local reports, Willis had been a soul singer in the 1960s known for songs such as 'Take My Heart' and 'Act Naturally'.

Online jail records show that Pec is being held at Santa Ana's central jail.