Feelings about the Death Penalty and Work with Amnesty International
ILIANA LOPEZ: Lopez, L-O-P-E-Z.
VIRGINIA RAYMOND: Okay good, and we are at [omitted street address] in Austin, Texas, and my name is Virginia Raymond.
RAYMOND: The photographer behind the camera is Gabriel Daniel Solis, and we're here with Iliana Lopez to conduct an interview. We talked a little bit before.
Do you understand that this project is to have interviews about your experienceS with capital crimes and with the death penalty and the conviction process?
RAYMOND: And the whole capital punishment process. Okay, and you understand that we're going to ask you to review the tape afterwards and decide if you want
to donate it to us, and if you do, and you approve it and agree then we would donate it for a public archive?
ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes, I understand.
RAYMOND: Okay. And also, I just want to make sure you know that you can stop this interview at any time. If I ask you something you don't want to answer, you
don't answer it. Anything you want, just, you're in charge. And the tape is about fifty minutes—
GABRIEL SOLIS: About an hour.
RAYMOND: About an hour, so if we talk that long, we will stop for sure then and either, depending on what's going on either change tapes or say thank you,
so. So I'm asking you to sign the consent form that you understand the risks and what was going on.
ILIANA LOPEZ: Here you go.
RAYMOND: Thank you so much.
ILIANA LOPEZ: And my middle name is also Marie.
RAYMOND: Marie, okay. Iliana Marie Lopez. I said where we are but I didn't say this is your house, so, this is your house.
ILIANA LOPEZ: My house.
RAYMOND: Okay, thank you very much. Okay, so why don't we begin with you just by telling us a little about yourself, where you were born, how old you
ILIANA LOPEZ: Okay, I'm Iliana. I was born in San Antonio, Texas, in September of 1981.
LOPEZ: I'm twenty-six, I'm going to be twenty-seven. I have a degree in psychology and I have a second degree in anthropology, and I have a background in
guidance and counseling through a graduate program that I was involved in for guidance and counseling.
LOPEZ: I moved to Austin to come to UT to finish my second degree. More about myself?
RAYMOND: Anything about growing up in San Antonio, where you grew up.
ILIANA LOPEZ: I grew up in the suburbs of San Antonio. There wasn't a lot of crime, however, my parents had a tamale factory in the inner city, so there was
always an element of crime there.
LOPEZ: So I grew up both really understanding how to live in both types of environments. So you had the poverty stricken Mexican Americans in the day at work
and then at night I would go, or when I would go home to the suburbs it was very middle class, white suburbia.
LOPEZ: And I noticed the difference in the two very early on. I've always stayed very close to urban life and inner cities, because I prefer that to just
kind of the mundane-ity of suburbia. Let's see, I worked with my parents since I was probably seven or eight, so I learned how to, I don't know, make tamales, and sell them, and market them.
LOPEZ: Let's see. I've also lived in Portland. That was about three years ago, and that was a completely different experience as well from San Antonio in
that there were very little Hispanic people there. More so Mexican immigrants, so I didn't have a lot of people that I could really identify with or relate to, but I still felt like that was
where I would choose to live if I could.
LOPEZ: I don't know why ethnicity is always such a big factor. Let's see, San Antonio. I went to an all-girls' high school that was Catholic, and I was a
national Hispanic scholar, and they made me wear a wig because I was a rebellious student but I didn't mind.
RAYMOND: A wig?
ILIANA LOPEZ: A wig because I had shaved my head, and they said it was too short of a hiarcut. And then I had wild hair colors and all sorts of very neat
stuff on my head. I really love math, especially Algebra two. I teach math also. I used to teach at John F. Kennedy high school. I had a math group for the community's and school's
and also some of the behavioral disciplined kids would come to my group. It was all volunteer. And I was also a mentor
RAYMOND: You called us probably because Dr. Speed told you about our program yesterday and you had two things that you wanted with us about
ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes.
RAYMOND: One was a tragedy, a friend of yours, is that. . .
ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes.
RAYMOND: Can you tell us about that?
ILIANA LOPEZ: Okay. When I was fifteen, fifteen or sixteen. It was in 1996. Okay, let's see, one of my best friends, he was my best male friend, was murdered
and we had to pick his murderer out of a line-up and also testify against him and I spent time with him, with the murderer, speaking to him prior to the murder, and I never had a chance to tell
anybody about what we talked about, and how it made me feel. It was-
LOPEZ: Okay, so we met him at the mall. That was how it happened. It's just a mall in San Antonio, North Star Mall. It's kind of an upscale mall. All the
nationals go to it during tax-free week. And I notice this guy, kind of off to himself.
LOPEZ: He was a loner, in all black, and he had long black hair, and we invited him over because we kind of felt like we were the outsider group anyway and
we were kind of, "Oh, come join us because we're a group of outsiders and you seem like an outsider too." And we just spent the day talking. However, I was the one that was talking to him.
LOPEZ: I was talking to Jason. Nobody spent, nobody really joined our conversation, and what we really talked about was our relationships with our fathers,
and how we both grew up in households with alcoholic fathers, and how he didn't really love his father, and how his father was very abusive towards him, and he hated his life.
LOPEZ: And he was also talking about people following him and, you know, I was kind of joking around with him, like, "Oh, people are following you," like, I
thought he was just, I don't know, playing around or making a joke, but then you know he really did seem like paranoid, like he kept looking over his shoulder.
LOPEZ: And then, you know, we didn't really think anything about him other than that he was a little weird, because we all had very like weird goth friends
or punk rock friends or skinhead friends and this guy didn't seem any weirder than any of us, basically.
LOPEZ: Except that he was wearing long sleeves in the summertime, or in a very hot day, it was not summertime, it was leap year. It was February 28th, or
29th, 28th. One of those. And then at one point we went and we put on masks in the mall.
LOPEZ: Like there were these little animal masks that we put on. And we all took pictures together, and then he started asking me about me and like, what I
liked to do, and where I lived, and personal questions like that.
LOPEZ: And I kind of started to get uncomfortable and avoid telling him where I lived or anything like that and I was very vague, I was giving him vague,
like, "Oh, in the north area," or, "Oh, under a--near a bridge," or "on a street" and he was asking my friends for my phone number and he was telling them that he really liked me,
LOPEZ: that he wanted to get to know me, and that he wanted to write a song about me and write songs about me, and draw my picture because he kept telling me
that I was beautiful and I didn't think he was cute. I wasn't attracted to him at all. And also he was older, and I felt that was really creepy.
LOPEZ: So I told my friends, "Please do not give him any information about me," and he kept inviting us to his house, like, "Oh, let's smoke peyote, I have
peyote on my property, I know where to find it, I know where to go," because he knew that we smoked pot but we'd never done peyote and that didn't seem like anything that I even wanted to
LOPEZ: So we were at the Luby's in North Star Mall, and I realize like, "Hey, we have to go," because my parents were going to come pick me and my best
friend up, who was dating, she was the girlfriend of Brandon. Brandon was, that's a very, that's a noise in my house.
RAYMOND: Oh no, I'm just, like, I'm just trying to figure out who is who at this point.
ILEANA LOPEZ: Okay. So Brandon died, and Jason killed him, and Omega is my best friend, and that's Brandon's girlfriend.
ILIANA LOPEZ: And Brandon and Omega are kind of giggling and making jokes about, "Oh, Jason likes you."
RAYMOND: How many--you--let me just, I'm just going to interrupt for a secon--
ILIANA LOPEZ: Sure.
RAYMOND: --just because how many of you are in the mall right now?
ILIANA LOPEZ: There were four of us, plus Jason, so five of us.
RAYMOND: So. . .
ILIANA LOPEZ: Omega, Brandon, myself, this guy Robbie was there also, and at one point it was another girl, Samira, I think was her name, or Sahira, another
girl was there, but she was there briefly, and so he convinced Brandon to go with him to his house. Okay.
LOPEZ: So then, Brandon hugged me goodbye in front of the mall, and he hugged Omega goodbye, and we're like, "What are you going to do?" and he said he was
going to go to that guy's house, and we're like, "Dude, don't go there, that's such a bad idea," and he's like, "No, we're just going to get high," and he had already done some drugs that he
had stolen from the Walgreen's pharmacy at the mall.
LOPEZ: It was a heart medication that I didn't know why kids were doing the heart, it's called Coricidin, and I didn't know why they were doing it, it was a
really big drug thing at Churchill High School in San Antonio where they were taking it to,
LOPEZ: I don't know if it was an upper or a downer or something you know and it was, lots of kids were doing it, you know and it was like there had just been
a kid who had O.D.'d on it at school and another kid had had a mini-stroke, you know all these crazy things were happening with this drug and then Brandon took it that day and we're like, "No,
LOPEZ: You know, he was like, he was a little, his eyes did look a little dilated and he did seem a little off. We knew that he was on drugs and you know,
we're like, "Did you take the drugs?" and yes, he did.
LOPEZ: Okay, so then after we left, apparently he had gone to smoke pot with that guy in his car. Well then I find out because he calls me later on at night
about 11 o'clock that after they had smoked pot that guy was like, "Eh, let's just go to my house," and Brandon was like, "Okay, let's go," and so they go and I'm like, "What are you guys
doing," and he's like,
LOPEZ: "We're just hanging around, we're just doing stuff," and it sounded very mischievous, like there was something going on, some like drugs, not anything
sexual, and they were doing drugs, and I was like, "Man, I know you're going to do drugs, just be really careful, because I know, you Churchill kids, you can't handle your drugs."
LOPEZ: Like I'd already seen all these kids go through all these, I don't know, going to Laurel Ridge and all those places where kids with problems go and I
didn't want to see him end up like that, and so. So he was with this strange guy and I'm like, "Just be careful, give me a call later."
LOPEZ: He's like, "Yeah yeah yeah, I'll call later."Well, before we hung up, he's like, "Well, I need my parents to think I'm at your house," and I'm like,
"Okay, I'll go ahead and call them on my phone on three-way so it will come up on their caller I.D. as coming up on my phone so they'll think you're at my house."
LOPEZ: It was his plan but I went along with it. So I heard him talking to his dad and telling him, "I'm at this Taco Stand, the Pink Sombrero, and I'm going
to be here with my friends, and don't worry about me I'll be home later."
LOPEZ: And his dad was like, "Okay, just be good." And that was like 11 o'clock. My parents would have never let me out past, like, dawn--no, not dawn, that
doesn't make sense. Dusk. Yeah. And so he hung up and then I was like, I knew it was wrong, I knew it was wrong to trick his dad like that,
LOPEZ: but I would have expected the same from him, so I was like, "Dude, just be careful, okay," and then I hung up with him, and that was the last time I
ever talked to him. And then we didn't hear about it, we didn't hear anything from him for like three days, and we were all so, we were worried.
LOPEZ: Like, Omega, his girlfriend, was paging him. He was my best friend and we had this thing where we would spend the whole night talking on the phone
until four in the morning until one of us went to sleep.
LOPEZ: And then he would say, "Hey, I fell asleep on the phone, okay, I'm gonna get off." You know, the falling asleep on the phone type of best friend. And
then he didn't call me, and I was like, "Where is he?" and finally we started to,
LOPEZ: like nobody really wanted to think about it, and then we paged him and kept paging him and nobody would call us back, and so then we saw a news
clipping that said that an unidentified male body had been found and my mom was the one that said, "I bet that's your friend, I know that's your friend."
LOPEZ: And we knew that it was him, and we were like, we didn't know how to react to that, to seeing that, we knew that that was his body. And we were like,
"Well, they're going to figure it out."
LOPEZ: And then we just waited for somebody to contact us. And somebody did. It was the Texas Ranger, and they wanted to know who we had talked to, because
we were the last people with Brandon, and we had,
LOPEZ: I had just picked Jason's face out of pictures. I didn't have to go to a line-up, like, with people, it was just a bunch of pictures in a book. And we
picked him out, or I picked him out, and my parents were there and they were kind of giving their two cents, like,
LOPEZ: "We want our lawyer, we can't have this," you know, and I kind of wanted them to go away and not make it an issue about them. And then they found out
what I had done with his parents and they were just, they blamed me for it. They were like, "How could you do that to his parents? Don't you know that you're the reason?"
LOPEZ: and I'm like, "Ahhhh, don't say that." I couldn't process that. It was just like, like whatever, blame me, like I already blamed myself of course. Not
to mention I started seeing Jason, like, just in crowds, like I would see him, see his face. It's like other people, now I think I saw him.
LOPEZ: I still do sometimes, if I see a long-haired guy with glasses, it's like ugh, that looks just like him. He had a mesh, a black mesh shirt. Some things
you just immediately remember, like what exactly he looked like or what he was wearing.
LOPEZ: But that wasn't, I don't know, it wasn't the same person that I talked to at the mall. Like, it wasn't like a demon like that. Like he was a real
human person th at was talking about his alcoholic father and how shitty his life was and how he really did feel like people were out to get him.
LOPEZ: And I knew he was trying to get us to go with him, you know, but I didn't think he was going to try to hurt us. And it really scared me to think I was
that close to being anywhere near him alone. He could have done something to me or Omega. And I didn't cry when his name was--
LOPEZ: The Texas Ranger who told us, he came into Omega's house. We all had to go to Omega's house at like nine o'clock at night and my parents were really
mad because they had to get out of their bed or something,
LOPEZ: I don't know, and get into the car and drive at nine o'clock at night on a school night, and I'm like, 'This is not just anything, this is--my best
friend's dead." But they were just, "This is such an inconvenience, this is burdensome."
LOPEZ: It was very dehumanizing to hear them talk about Brandon like that. And then the Texas Ranger walked in and I remember he took off his hat and he
said, "Brandon's dead," and Omega cried, but I didn't cry. But I cried at the rosary. Everybody cried at the rosary.
LOPEZ: And I apologized to his parents at the rosary, and then at the funeral, and his sister, because he had a little sister. And it took a long time to
really be okay with it. Like, I went to therapy for a while, but I just wanted to talk about my boyfriends because I was a teenager and I didn't really know what the underlying problem was, and
I knew like,
LOPEZ: it's wrong that my best friend was murdered, and I feel really sad about it, but how, what implications does that hold in my life, or how can I ever
get over it by just talking about it? Like I didn't think that way was going to help. And then one time in two-thousand and four or five, I went to his grave for the first time by myself, and I
had a really long talk with him.
LOPEZ: And it was after the trial, the trial was in 1999. That was the year I went to U.T. And I remember I was subpoenaed at my dorm and they were like,
"Uh, you have to testify," and so I had to go and I had to see him and you know they grilled me on the stand and it was like, "Why are you trying to make Brandon out to seem like a
LOPEZ: Like they were trying to make him seem like this drug addict that was, you know, along for the ride and it was consensual sex and you know, that they
tried to bring up the fact that they had this girlfriend and him and they were into cutting,
LOPEZ: but it wasn't even his girlfriend, it was his ex-girlfriend and she was into it, and it was another one of those weird Churchill groups, you know, and
they didn't, yeah. The prosecution, or the defense team, excuse me, was just really upsetting me. They were bringing up lies about him, like, misconstruing the truth about him a lot.
LOPEZ: And that was it. And I remember I had a tattoo, my first tattoo, and they were like, "Are you in a gang?" because it's a black widow tattoo, and, "Are
you affiliated with this?" and I was like, "How can you. . ." I don't know. It was very disrespectful I think. But since then I know that Jason's appealed. I've never talked to him, I've never
spoken about him to anyone.
LOPEZ: Omega, I see her once in a while, whenever I go to San Antonio, and we, that will always bond us. Like, that was an experience that, like we just
whenever we see each other that's the first thing that we both know that we're thinking about, so we just hug, and then talk about whatever else. Like, we don't have to say it, the hug already
RAYMOND: Would you like to take a break right now?
ILIANA LOPEZ: No, I'm good.
RAYMOND: Okay. I'm looking in my, I'm trying to find a tissue in my--
ILIANA LOPEZ: I'm good.
RAYMOND: Jason was murdered--
ILIANA LOPEZ: Brandon.
RAYMOND: Oh, I'm so sorry. Brandon was murdered in what year?
ILIANA LOPEZ: I want to say 1996.
RAYMOND: Ninety-six. And so it was several years before the trial happened--
ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes.
RAYMOND: And you were called.
ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes. It was almost 5--or four, four years after it that it took so long to finally come to trial. Somebody told me that they were in their
county and they saw Jason. This guy who, he was always going to jail for whatever offense, and that he was in the general population and not, I don't know how he even knew who he was.
LOPEZ: It's a very small group in San Antonio, like, everybody knows everybody. I can't stress that enough. In 1999, everybody knew everybody. You know, now
there's so many kids that that's not the same I don't think, but back then it was really was. Like all of the groups from the different high schools really knew each other, for sure, and so,
you know, when this guy told me,
LOPEZ: "Yeah I saw that guy Jason that killed your friend," but he didn't, you know, that was it, it was just, "I saw him," like, I don't know. He just
wanted to let me know that he had seen him I guess, just to let me know that he had seen him. When I saw him it was. . . He looked exactly the same. Nothing had ever changed.
LOPEZ: And he looked sad at the trial. And they were like, "Will you point out the person that is the murderer?" and when I couldn't, pointed to him. I
didn't want him to see me, that I was scared. That was the biggest thing for me. Like I walked in there like, "Nobody can touch me." And I made sure to really lock eyes with him, you know.
LOPEZ: Not in a, I never wanted anything bad to happen to Jason, I just want to know why. And if not why, because there is probably is no why, because I
don't think he even knows why, I don't think Jason knows why. It's a very unresolvable issue, that in no way can be meted out with another death. Because he was up for the death penalty, and I
was strong. Did I tell you I was also in Amnesty International in high school?
ILIANA LOPEZ: I was the vice president of my chapter. I was, that was, when Brandon died, I was in Amnesty, and that really shaped how I felt about
Jason at the trial.
RAYMOND: Tell us about that.
ILIANA LOPEZ: Knowing the cost and the length of time of appeals, and then also the psychological stress of being in there, and I knew that going into
the trial, and that's what he was faced with. And I never wanted him to, I wasn't for him to die, and I'm not for anybody to die.
LOPEZ: I'm against the death penalty. And people ask me, "Well what would you do if it happened to your friend, or your mom," or you know, and I'm like, "It
happened to my friend," and I still said no. Like, I've been there, and I still feel like there's more to it than just that, than just retribution at a physical level. There's a lot to learn
about people like Jason, very much so.
RAYMOND: When you said there's more to it than retribution, can you tell me what you mean by that?
IILIANA LOPEZ: Definitely. There's more to the criminal process than just your, you know, the punishment should fit the crime. That is such an arcane
idiom, euphemism, you know. That's, because there's, there are things linked to the crime, the contexts of the crime.
LOPEZ: Like, I know in Jason's case they tried to make it seem like there was some drug stuff going on, you know, like that it was an accident, but I didn't,
like, on the basis of those appeals and his defense, that wasn't why I was against the death penalty.
LOPEZ: I still want him to spend his life in prison. I still want him to think about how he's affected the Shank family, particularly his sister, his little
sister, but I felt it was very selfish for me or for Omega or for anybody else that was there to feel that he should die. I don't know why, like I really feel like it's not our place to really.
. . Maybe there is a difference in the family, being a family member with somebody that has died, but Brandon felt like my family, but I don't think I'll be affected as much as his little
LOPEZ: There's just a lot of different levels of. . . There's a lot of different levels. You know, Brandon's relationship with Omega, you know, Brandon was a
pianist. I don't know, that doesn't have anything to do with it. But one time he came out and he did a concert piece at North Star Mall.
LOPEZ: They used to have a grand piano in the food court and they let him play it. He was trained in classical piano. And I'll really miss that. I really
think Jason would do it again, like, given the chance, he would definitely prey on somebody.
Video 2 of "Interview with Ms. Iliana López."
Iliana López was a high school student in 1996, when her close friend Brandon Shanks was murdered. In the beginning of Video 1, López describes growing up in San Antonio, Texas, and recalls the events leading up to Brandon's murder, including the trip she and her friends took to their usual hangout, the North Star Mall, where they met the young man who would later murder Brandon. López describes how Brandon went home with the man and how she came to find out that her best friend was dead. In Video 1, López also discusses the effects of the murder, the criminal justice process, and the 1999 trial on her life; her reactions toward the defense team's strategies at trial; and her attitudes toward the death penalty. In Video 2, López talks further about her memories of Brandon; the effects of Brandon's murder among his peers; her experiences during the trial, including her reactions toward the defense team's interrogation of Brandon's sexuality; and shares what she's learned in the aftermath of the murder. This interview took place on June 26, 2008 in Austin, Travis County, Texas.
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Iliana LopezRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
Megan EatmanRole: Transcriber
Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Proofreader
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Austin
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