Man Gets Life in Idaho Slaying

Times Staff Writer

A member of a well-known Lake Forest basketball family who admitted to killing an associate in a drug-running business was sentenced to life in prison, but could be paroled after he serves seven years, an Idaho prosecutor said Thursday.

Giovanni Mendiola, 32, whose younger sisters are star basketball players at the University of Washington, pleaded guilty in September to strangling and stabbing an Idaho drug dealer and leaving his body at a campground near a lake, said Bill Douglas, the prosecutor in Kootenai County, Idaho, where the charges were filed.

Mendiola was sentenced last week to spend at least eight years in prison, but was credited with serving 214 days in jail while awaiting sentencing.

The judge denied the prosecutor's recommendation that Mendiola serve at least 12 years before being eligible for parole.

During his sentencing hearing, Mendiola described the murder as "an accident" but provided few details on just what occurred when Brendan Butler, 20, a drug dealer, died on Oct. 11, 2002, according to local newspapers.

Two of Mendiola's brothers, Eddie, 33, a writer, and Pierro, 31, a quality control manager in a Southern California aerospace plant, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of accessory to murder and were sentenced to three- to five-year terms.

Those sentences could be cut to six months if they successfully complete a prison "boot camp."

The Mendiolas are brothers of basketball stars Guiliana and Gioconda Mendiola. Guiliana Mendiola, Orange County's all-time leading scorer in girls' basketball, is the first University of Washington basketball player to be named Pac-10 women's player of the year.

The large but close-knit family is well-known for its athletic prowess, aggressive behavior at basketball games and numerous run-ins with the law, ranging from spousal abuse to possession of stolen property.

Authorities said the three brothers, who formed "a crew" with two other Orange County friends, were hired by Butler, who wanted help in quashing some competitors in Idaho.

Butler hired Giovanni Mendiola to rob and kill rivals in the Canadian marijuana-smuggling trade, the Idaho prosecutors said.

Instead, the Mendiolas had a fight with Butler, whose body was found on a national forest road near a remote campground.

Giovanni Mendiola said in court that he agreed to plead guilty to avoid the possibility of a life sentence without parole and to spare his two brothers lengthy prison sentences.

The deal also spared his sisters from testifying in court.

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