Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
|For Immediate Release|
January 5, 2007
OCDA SEEKS DEATH PENALTY FOR MAN CHARGED
WITH 1980 COLD CASE MURDER
OF 70-YEAR-OLD SEAL BEACH WOMAN
*Victim’s son found his mother raped and murdered on Christmas Eve
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney is seeking the death penalty in the case of a man charged with the 1980 murder of a 70-year-old Seal Beach woman. Benjamin Wayne Watta, 61, formerly of Long Beach, is being held without bail and is scheduled to begin pre-trial motions on Monday, January 8, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday, January 16, 2007, and opening statements will begin Monday, January 29, 2007.
On December 23, 1980, Watta is accused of murdering 70-year-old Simone Sharpe at her neighbor’s home in Seal Beach. 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. 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. Her son entered the home the same way 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 TracKRS Unit linked Watta to the murder after matching his DNA to the 1980 rape kit. The DNA technology used to analyze the rape kit did not exist at the time of the murder, and Orange County did not conduct forensic DNA analysis until the early 1990s. At the time of the DNA hit, Watta 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.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin is prosecuting this case.