|For Immediate Release
Case # 01WF1063
January 20, 2009
|Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
MAN SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR 1980 COLD
CASE RAPE AND MURDER OF 70-YEAR-OLD
SEAL BEACH WOMAN
SANTA ANA – A former Long Beach man was sentenced today to receive the death penalty for the 1980 sexual assault and murder of a 70-year-old Seal Beach woman. Benjamin Wayne Watta, 63, was convicted of one felony count of murder during the commission of rape and burglary on June 2, 2008, and a jury recommended the death penalty on July 2, 2008.
On Dec. 23, 1980, Watta murdered 70-year-old Simone Sharpe at her neighbor’s home in Seal Beach. Sharpe had been helping her vacationing neighbors for several days by entering through an unlocked garage door to feed their cats and collect the mail. The following evening, on Christmas Eve, Sharpe’s son noticed that his mother was missing and went to the neighbor’s house to look for her. Her son entered the neighbor’s home the same way as the victim and found his mother murdered in a bedroom, wedged between the bed and the wall. She had been raped, strangled, and suffocated.
The case remained unsolved for over 20 years until March 21, 2001, when the OCDA Task Force Aimed at Catching Killers, Rapists and Sexual Offenders Unit (TracKRS) linked Watta to the murder through DNA from the 1980 rape kit. The DNA technology used by TracKRS to analyze forensic evidence from the crime scene did not exist in 1980. When TracKRS linked Watta to the murder, the defendant was in custody in Florida for shooting and attempting to murder his then-girlfriend. He was extradited to Orange County to face charges for murdering Sharpe.
During the guilt phase of the trial, the defense presented evidence that convicted Texas serial case Henry Lee Lucas confessed to Sharpe’s murder in 1986, but the People argued that the DNA evidence conclusively matched Watta to the crime.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin of the Homicide Unit prosecuted case.