Interview with Iliana López

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Table of Contents 
  •  Living in San Antonio 
  •  Responses to Brandon's Death Among His Peers 
  •  The Subpoena and the Trial 
  •  Reflecting on Brandon's Death Years Later 
  •  Visiting Brandon's Gravesite 
  •  Watch Video 1 of "Interview with Iliana López." 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: I don't know, teenage stuff, what we were going to do on the weekend.And then at the time of his murder, Omega had told her parents that he was my boyfriend, so there was some confusion there, because her parents didn't want her dating anybody. 
  •  LOPEZ: They were very strict also. That was strange. I was like, "Brandon wasn't my boyfriend. He was Omega's boyfriend. He was my best friend." 
  •  LOPEZ: And he always wore a beret. He had a black beret that he always wore and it was Nike and I've never seen anybody wear that anymore. That was a very nineties thing. 
  •  RAYMOND: So, you had been friends with Brandon for some time before his tragedy. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: I would say we were friends for maybe a few months. Like, best friendships develop quickly. I would say we were friends for at most like five months prior to that. 
  •  RAYMOND: And Brandon was at Church-- 
  •  ILEANA LOPEZ: At Churchill, yes. He went to public school. 
  •  RAYMOND: I was very struck by how you said earlier that everybody knows each other in San Antonio. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes. And in Austin. All the people that grew up going to the same shows between San Antonio and Austin, because they had to pick between one city. 
  •  LOPEZ: We would all go there, they would all go there. And so it's like kids from the mid-ninties to late nineties even in Austin we knew each other. 
  •  LOPEZ: In San Antonio, it's--everybody knows everybody in this little corridor of 35, but in San Antonio specifically in the high schools you had, you know, your different crowds and there might have been one crowd with different members from different high schools and then another crowd with you know the same, different members of different high schools, but then there were, you know, high school specific crowds. 
  •  LOPEZ: Like the high schools in the northeast side, they were, you know, I don't know, they didn't hang out at North Star Mall, they hung out at the northeast side neighborhoods and the pool halls there. 
  •  LOPEZ: And then all the kids who went to Churchill hung out at, oh, Diamond J's, it was a pool hall. I forgot, that's where I would go like everyday. Not the mall, beside the mall. It was the billiards hall. The mall and the pool hall. 
  •  RAYMOND: You mean after school or you mean on the weekends? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Both. 
  •  RAYMOND: Incarnate Word High School is by the university, right? By Brackenridge? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes, it's right across the street from the university, or across the highway. 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay, and so it was, did you, how did you get home? How did you get to and from school? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: I drove. 
  •  RAYMOND: Oh you drove? 
  •  ILEANA LOPEZ: And before I drove, my mother drove me from the suburbs. So it was easily a 45 minute drive to school, from school, for four years. It was absolutely hell to have to drive that long everyday. And so when I started working, actually I got a job at Whataburger with Omega right off of 281, like, maybe ten minutes away from Incarnate Word, but so far away from my house. 
  •  LOPEZ: And people would always ask me, "Why do you work there," you know, "Why don't you work close to your house?" I don't know, this is close to where I hang out. Like, my school's there, all of my friends live in this area. And then my house was, it was the odd house out that was very far away. 
  •  RAYMOND: So north on 281, north of Incarnate Word- 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes. 
  •  RAYMOND: --and Breckenridge but south of-- 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes. And north--or east, excuse me, my parents lived northwest. 
  •  RAYMOND: I see, okay. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yeah. 
  •  RAYMOND: So east, okay. Well you've talked about how kids at Winston Churchill and some of them from Incarnate Word knew each other. How did that affect this group of kids when Brandon died? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: When Brandon died everybody became his best friend, and that really pissed me off. All of the sudden you had, he had five girlfriends. 
  •  LOPEZ: People came out of the woodwork to say how--and I thought that was very nice though, to say how he touched them, but then you had people that were coming out and saying like how he was, he was a drug addict, or, you know, this was bad about him, and then that was like the drama aspect. 
  •  LOPEZ: Drama, drama big time at Churchill. The kids with their Coricidin heart pills, the heart medication. Right after he died, again there was another kid or maybe there some more kids had overdoses, you know, and it was kind of like, it was taking attention away from that and placing it on drug use. 
  •  LOPEZ: Like, "Oh, Brandon wants to do drugs," and, "Oh my God, everybody's dying."And I'm like, "Will you stop running around like, you know, headless chickens," 
  •  LOPEZ: you know, and kind of see that Brandon's dead and it wasn't drugs and it wasn't anything it was, he was murdered, and let's just respect the time, respect time for him, because people immediately wanted to start talking about their own problems or problems at Churchill that kids were having, 
  •  LOPEZ: and I didn't go to Churchill, so I didn't know half the people at his funeral, seventy-five per cent of the people, and yet I was one of his best friends. And it really showed me that nobody really knew him, like, including me, I didn't know him either. 
  •  RAYMOND: Well, I'm sorry, did we finish, or-- 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: I was going to say when, on his, on the brochure for his rosary, they wrote that his favorite Beatles song was "Imagine," but I knew that wasn't his favorite Beatles song. It was something else. Now I can't remember. 
  •  RAYMOND: Yeah, you can't remember. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yeah. And I was like, "No, that wasn't it, he told me it was this-and-this." And so it just, another point that nobody--his parents didn't know him, nobody knew him. 
  •  RAYMOND: I wonder if I could take you back, go back to you were talking about in 1999, I guess, was that the fall that you came to U.T.? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yes. 
  •  RAYMOND: You start here as a freshman, and then you get this subpoena. Can you tell us a little bit about that and, yeah, and the trial and what it was like for you, how it logistically all worked? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Okay. I was in the middle of my fall semester and I had somebody come to my door and just hand me the envelope and just looking at it and knowing that it was for the trial, like, added about a ton of pressure to me and I didn't go to school that entire week, maybe even the week after that. 
  •  LOPEZ: It was just, you know, another added piece of the pie to neglect it, you know, another piece, another reason that I didn't have, I didn't want to be there, you know. 
  •  LOPEZ: I felt so uncomfortable and so alone and far away from my comfort zone, and then to know that I was going to have to face Jason again, I wasn't looking forward to it, and it really. . . 
  •  LOPEZ: I don't even remember sleeping up until the trial, like it just, it was always on my mind, like what was I going to say, what was going to happen. I had been prepped for it, to give a deposition, I guess. 
  •  LOPEZ: I had given a deposition way before, the original one, but then I was also prepped right before I was going to stand and going through tho se questions, and they were kind of like, "Oh, by the way, be aware that the defense people are going to cross-examine you and make you look bad."And I was like, "Why?," you know, I had no idea about the trial process. And so I get out there and I know that his aunt was testifying. 
  •  LOPEZ: There was other people testifying before me, and I didn't want my mother in the courtroom. I asked her to stay out. And I just, I testified as honestly as I could. When I felt like they were, I don't know, I felt like they weren't doing enough for Brandon. They weren't asking, the prosecution wasn't asking the right questions. 
  •  RAYMOND: What would you have said in that trial if you could have? What would have been the right questions, and what would you have wanted to say at that point? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: That Brandon was not attracted to Jason, that it was no way consensual because he had a girlfriend and her name is Omega. 
  •  LOPEZ: That much I know. Like, I didn't get a chance to say that because they kept bringing up that he was bisexual and that he had, you know, tried to hit on some guy at his school, 
  •  LOPEZ: and then that he was experimenting sexually with his ex-girlfriend, and I wanted to say, like, "That girl is so messed up," like, she, you know, she's the one that got him into that. 
  •  LOPEZ: I don't know, it doesn't mean that he was looking for that or he wasn't--I don't know, it just, you can't paint somebody's personality by just the associations they keep. No, you can't. So she was, it was that girl, and then it was. . . 
  •  LOPEZ: There was another thing that they told me that he had had something done to him, like, it was so violent what Jason had done to him that there is no way that it could have been consensual or could have been a non-aggressive act, 
  •  LOPEZ: and that image stands out in my mind even though I never saw it, but the fact that the assistant D.A. told me that he had a footprint on his chest. They discovered him with a sock on his body. 
  •  RAYMOND: Is there anything that you would like people to know about your experience with being a friend of someone who's murdered, about being deposed, about going through the trial? If someone was to read this or see your tape later, what -- talk to those people. What do you want them to know or to take from this experience, set of experiences you've had? 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: How survivor guilt never goes away. It kind of diminishes a little bit. It completely restructures your views on your own life, how happy you are to be alive, and I know how trite that sounds, but it's very true, and you start really. . . 
  •  LOPEZ: Every time I stop to think about that, it makes me want to call my mom because it's who I would miss the most, I guess. And also I wonder, like, if it were me in his place, how would, seeing how I'm affected and how his family's affected, it also, it's a very big deterrent against suicide. 
  •  LOPEZ: I've seen how just having somebody taken away from you and that it's still surreal ten years later. Like, I can't believe that I will never talk to this person again. That one minute he was okay, and then from one second you can't talk to him anymore. 
  •  And you have dreams about the person where you can talk to them and that helps. Yeah, but just understanding that you will never physically communicate with someone again. That's very hard. That's the hardest part for me. So yeah. Not being able to talk to him anymore. 
  •  RAYMOND: You did say, and not to say that's not true, of course, it is, but you did try to have a kind of conversation, you went to his gravesite. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: Yeah, and it really helped. It was like I told him about the trial. I told him about how much I missed him, about how much everybody really missed him. Like, somebody gave me something to give to him to put on his coffin, and I didn't get a chance to, I forgot to take it with me that day, and I remember burning it, like, it will burn and its energy will go to heaven, wherever heaven is, and wherever Brandon is. 
  •  LOPEZ: But yeah, he's at Fort Sam Houston, and the whole process of looking up his name and finding the grave and then just like all of the sudden that was the only grave I could see, and they all look the same. But also I put like a rock on it, because my uncle taught me that when I was a kid. 
  •  RAYMOND: Your uncle is from--is that your mom's-- 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: My mom's side. Yeah they all fit little stones. They have a family plot in Laredo, so we always have these little rocks, all of them at the grave sites. It didn't do anything also to help my fear of death. It really just, it put death right there in front of me, especially knowing that it could have been me. 
  •  It could have been me, and anybody could be Jason, and anybody can say, "Hey, let's go smoke peyote at my house," or, it doesn't even have to be peyote, you know, you're just never aware of people's true intentions are. You can never trust anybody. 
  •  RAYMOND: That's a large statement. 
  •  ILIANA LOPEZ: I know. I do not trust, I cannot trust anybody anymore. 
  •  RAYMOND: Anything else that you want to add? 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay, thank you. [transcript missing] 
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Title:Interview with Iliana López
Abstract: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.
Sequence:2 of 2
  • Iliana LopezRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
  • Gabriel Daniel SolisRole: Videographer
  • Megan EatmanRole: Transcriber
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2008/06/25
Geographic Focuses:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

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