Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Mutilation
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: July 17, 1978
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1952
Victim profile: Her son Demario, 2, and her three daughters, Kylia, 8, Amina, 6, and Inez, 4
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Buffalo, Erie County, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison on February 25, 1980. Conviction overturned on June 15, 1988. Declared legally insane in 1989. Released in 1998

Gail Trait -- Buffalo, N.Y., July 17, 1978

Trait, 26, stabbed her four children to death and then told police she was trying to save her soul. Relatives said she spoke of a voodoo curse. Trait served 10 years in prison before an appeals court overturned her conviction and ruled her insane. She spent another 10 years in a psychiatric hospital.


Gail Trait

Possessed Child Killer

Voodoo rites of passage and possession by Satan were not deemed adequategrounds for an insanity plea for an East Side woman who killed her four children in the summer of 1978. At least not right away.

Gail Trait, a 26-year-old student of liberal arts at Erie Community College and a single mother. snapped one day. She butchered her four children, ages two to nine, at her motherís East Side apartment, two weeks after the children were returned to her from child protective services. Trait spent 10 years in prison before a court overturned her conviction and ruled her insane. She spent the next 10 years in a psychiatric hospital.


The lost of innocents

By Cara E. Richards

Therer was only one article in the New York Times about a second female mass murderer, Gail Trait, who killed her four children on July 17, 1978, in Buffalo. New York. That article detailed her conviction on four counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of the unnamed children: a 2-year-old boy and three girls ranging in age from 4 to 9. She had pleaded insanity, but the jury apparently did not agree. The Times did not mention her sentence or give any additional details.

The Buffalo newspaper, however, was more informative: the three girls were Kylia (8), Amina (6), and Inez (4); the two-year-old boy was named Demario.

Their mother, Gail Trait (26), had been separated from their father for about two years. She was a student at Erie Community College, a liberal arts major specializing in social sciences, and had recently moved with her children into her mother's apartment.

The children, who had been in the custody of the Erie County child welfare officials, had been returned to her two weeks before they were killed.

Gail's defense attorney attempted to convince the jury that she was insane at the time of the crime. Several psychiatrists for the defense saying that she was a paranoid schizophrenic and those for the prosecution saying that she killed in anger and knew what she was doing.

The jury believed the prosecution psychiatrists, and Gail was convicted in December 1979. She was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison on February 25, 1980, but on June 15, 1988, New York State's high court refused to block an April 8, 1988, ruling granting her a new trial.

This last Buffalo News article saqid tat she ha killed her children in a voodoo rite, which had been mentioned when she first was arrested but which the police say was "unfounded". We have no records of additional articles, and she still in prison in June 1988.



April 8, 1988


Appeal from judgment of Supreme Court, Erie County, Mintz, J. -- murder, second degree.

Denman, J. P., Boomer, Green, Lawton and Davis, JJ.

Judgment unanimously reversed on the law and new trial granted. Memorandum: The right to the effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by both the Federal and State Constitutions (US Const 6th Amend; NY Const, art I, ? 6). The constitutional requirement is met so long as the evidence, the law, and the circumstances of a particular case, viewed in totality and as of the time of the representation, reveal that the attorney provided meaningful representation (People v Baldi, 54 N.Y.2d 137, 147). In reviewing claims of ineffective counsel, our concern is to avoid confusing true ineffectiveness with mere losing tactics and according undue significance to retrospective analysis (People v Baldi, supra, at 146). There is no requirement that counsel be free from any errors in the conduct of the trial and his conduct must be considered in its entirety (People v Dietz, 79 A.D.2d 476, 480). What constitutes effective assistance cannot be precisely defined but varies according to the particular circumstances of each representation (see, People v Baldi, supra, at 146; People v Droz, 39 N.Y.2d 457, 462). "However it is elementary that the right to effective representation includes the right to assistance by an attorney who has taken the time to review and prepare both the law and the facts relevant to the defense * * * and who is familiar with, and able to employ at trial basic principles of criminal law and procedure" (People v Droz, supra, at 462).

The record in this case establishes that defense counsel failed to provide meaningful representation to defendant. His opening statement was ill-conceived and ineptly developed. It was rambling and disconnected; it elicited 21 sustained objections, largely because counsel engaged in argument that was appropriate only for summation. His pretrial preparation was inadequate. His decision to forbear making pretrial motions, in the circumstances of this case, was unwise. He did not appear in opposition to the People's motion for an order precluding pretrial motions. Counsel's trial preparation was inadequate to the extent that his direct and cross-examination of witnesses was rendered largely ineffective. The lack of preparation was particularly evident in the examination of defense psychiatrists and thus provided minimal support for the insanity defense. This omission left these witnesses unnecessarily vulnerable to skillful cross-examination which proper preparation could have avoided. The trial court observed that counsel alienated the jurors to such an extent that it may have had an adverse effect on their verdict. Counsel's decorum and deportment, characterized by the court at times as inexcusable and reprehensible, may have contributed to this alienation. Counsel engaged in excessive and purposeless cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. The effect of the answers elicited during this aimless cross-examination of experienced police officers, especially as to whether they had ever witnessed a more gruesome crime, was undoubtedly damaging to the defense. Counsel declined to cross-examine a jail matron who gave testimony extremely unfavorable to the defense; instead, he simply told the jury on summation to dismiss this testimony as fabricated and incredible.

 We perceive no benefit in further enumerating the numerous examples of errors and misconduct on the part of defense counsel as reflected in this record. They were pervasive. In sum, the totality of the omissions, misconduct and the errors forces the conclusion that counsel's performance deprived defendant of her right to effective assistance of counsel as commanded by the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution.

In view of our holding, we do not address the issue of whether the prosecutor intentionally used peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury in violation of defendant's rights under the United States and New York Constitutions.



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