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Uncle honors slain Layton niece, nephew with fundraising, marathon run

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 10, 2021

Photo supplied, Keith Warhola

This undated photo shows James and Jean Warhola.

FARMINGTON — Keith Warhola has followed his former sister-in-law’s murder case from afar for 11 years, hoping for justice and some closure, but above all trying to keep alive the memories of his slain niece and nephew.

Sun Cha Warhola last week was on the brink of finally going on trial in the Sept. 8, 2010, strangling deaths of her children, James, 8, and Jean, 7. But the proceeding was canceled after her attorney said the 55-year-old’s mental condition has deteriorated again, rendering her incompetent to assist in her own defense.

Keith Warhola, 62, of Long Island, New York, describes himself as a doting uncle who idolized the two children and always looked forward to their holiday visits to extended family in New York. After they were killed, he said he promised to ensure they are remembered.

This year, with Sun Cha Warhola’s trial approaching Sept. 9, Keith Warhola made plans to run the Nov. 7 New York City Marathon in the children’s honor, raising funds for a children’s foundation in the process. The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation helps kids dealing with domestic violence.

This undated family photo shows Keith, Jean and James Warhola.

“I kind of threw up my hands,” Warhola said in a phone interview this week about his reaction to the latest trial setback. “I’ve been raising money for charity and I genuinely thought the trial would be over, I would cross the marathon finish line and I thought there would be some kind of closure.”

Warhola, a retired video editor and photographer, said each year he has created photo exhibits, galleries and posters to honor James and Jean. He said he has no children himself and lives with his fiance.

After the deaths, “At first the world was upside down,” Warhola said. “Every time I looked at a picture of them I would ask, ‘Why, why?”‘

After a while, he said he realized, “One of my biggest fears was that I didn’t want them to be forgotten. I wanted to convey that to everybody I know. These kids were amazing.”

Warhola said over the years he kept track of the case with Google searches, looking for developments.

“In May 2019 when they found her competent, I was almost literally doing backflips,” Warhola said. “I thought maybe I would finally get closure on this thing.”

After years of treatment at the Utah State Hospital, doctors declared Sun Cha Warhola competent to stand trial. The case proceeded through the pretrial phases and, like many other murder cases, was further set back by COVID-19, which created a need for social distancing that courtrooms were not equipped to easily manage.

Her attorney, Edward Brass, said a plea bargain was on the table and his client understood it. But in subsequent meetings, he said her mental state regressed, and new mental evaluations were ordered.

ERIN HOOLEY, Standard-Examiner file photo Sun Cha Warhola appears at a competency hearing on Friday, May 27, 2011, with an interpreter and her attorney Ed Brass before Judge David M. Connors in 2nd District Court in Farmington. Warhola was found incompetent to stand trial for the deaths of her children, 8-year-old James Warhola and 7-year-old Jean Warhola.

“For the longest time she said she couldn’t remember what happened,” Keith Warhola said. “How do you not remember this? I hate to be a cynic but I don’t buy into this. I think it’s an excuse.”

He said he did not know Sun Cha Warhola well because of the language barrier, her speaking Korean. “When they and the kids came in to see the sights, the kids were always well dressed and well mannered and I thought she must be doing something right.” he said.

Police said Kenneth Warhola, the children’s father, called 911 after arriving home and finding his wife barricaded in a bedroom with the children. He pushed his way in and found the children unresponsive.

Sun Cha Warhola is charged with two counts of first-degree felony aggravated murder. She is held without bail at the Davis County Jail.

“The fact that she’s locked up, I prefer that to her roaming free, but she’s got to pay for what she did to those two young kids,” Keith Warhola said.

At the same time, though, he said, “I can’t constantly hate her 24-7. I’ve got to be more constructive about her. To just focus on hate would destroy me.”

Warhola said he ran the New York Marathon once before, but at age 62, “it’s very challenging. I’m going to be calling on James and Jeannie the whole 26 miles.”

Efforts to contact Kenneth Warhola for this story were unsuccessful.

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