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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah judge ordered a mental health evaluation Thursday for a Layton woman charged with killing her two kids in their home more than 10 years ago.
A trial for Sun Cha Warhola was set to begin in September, but her attorney says her physical and mental health have deteriorated in the last three weeks, although, it's not exactly clear why.
Warhola has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, in the deaths of her son James, 8, and daughter Jean Marie, 7. Authorities say she strangled the children in James' bedroom in their Layton home on Sept. 8, 2010.
The court case was on hold for roughly eight years while Warhola was in the psychiatric Utah State Hospital, until a judge deemed her competent to stand trial in 2019.
Second District Judge Michael Edwards has again ordered Warhola to be taken to the Utah State Hospital for evaluation. The judge is scheduled to make a finding at a Nov. 30 hearing after reviewing the results. If she's found not fit to face the charges, it's likely she'll remain at the hospital for treatment as doctors work with her to restore competency.
"Once again we're scheduling that as soon as we can to try to move your matter forward and not delay it any more than is absolutely necessary," Edwards told Warhola. She appeared in Farmington's 2nd District Court in an orange-and-white striped jail uniform over a video feed Tuesday and listened quietly to a Korean interpreter.
Competent in the legal sense means a person can understand the allegations against them and help prepare a defense.
Warhola had been discussing a possible plea deal with her defense lawyer Ed Brass, appearing to understand the details, asking questions and forming an opinion, Brass wrote in a recent court filing. But since Aug. 10, her condition has declined, and she can't remember what they talked about or the details of the plea offer.
In recent weeks, she's been expressing a belief that a psychiatrist in the Utah State Hospital has extended an offer — rather than Davis County prosecutors — and wanted to accept the deal at first but has come to reject it, reasoning she is innocent "and that the deaths of her children were caused by the government," Brass wrote, recalling his client saying it was "the first time she had told anyone this," Brass wrote in a petition for inquiry into competency.
Brass said it's become clear his client couldn't enter a plea that meets the requirements of competent, knowing and voluntary. He's represented Warhola since the beginning of the case, has a good relationship with her and can "represent to the court in good faith that she is not malingering, he said.
"Her fervent belief in her changing positions makes it impossible for her to assist in any way in her defense," Brass wrote.
The children's father, Ken Warhola, has called for a prison sentence of at least 25 years for his former wife and has said he fears people will forget about his children. He said he believes Sun Cha Warhola had planned out the children's deaths.
The children's father has said James loved Legos and cartoons, while his sister Jean Marie was bright and also her brother's protector.
Warhola returns to court on Nov. 20 for a review of the competency evaluation.