Friday August 16, 2013

ELIZABETH CONKEY

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A 72-year-old Florida man on trial for a sexual assault that allegedly occurred more than two decades ago has agreed to release his medical records to the prosecution.

Leonard Forte, of Fort Myers, Fla., agreed Thursday to sign a release for the deputy attorney general handling the prosecution to gain access to his medical records and consult directly with a state-appointed cardiologist. This new development will ultimately delay the 25-year-long, pending case another 30 days, however.

Throughout the three-way conference call Thursday with Bennington Superior Court Judge Cortland Corsones and Deputy Attorney General David Tartar, Forte was obviously frustrated, speaking over Corsones, asking why the state has continued to pursue the case, even in his weakened state.

During the call, Forte made reference to malicious persecution by the court.

"I think the medical records speak for themselves," said Forte.

At the last status hearing for Forte in June, Corsones ordered Forte to sign a release for his medical records to be overturned to the state for consideration after Forte claimed to be too ill to travel from his Florida home to Bennington to appear in court for trial. Since 2005, Forte has been appearing in Bennington Superior Court via telephone to provide regular status updates regarding his health.

The longevity of Forte’s case has been largely due to Forte’s claim that the "stress of a trial would kill him." Forte has claimed to have a history of heart complications.

Tartar first agreed to delay the case because it was believed that Forte -- who says he is in need of a heart transplant -- would either receive an imminent transplant or die. That surgery, however, has yet to come to fruition.

"The understanding among all the doctors was he wasn’t long for this world,"Tartar said. "It’s safe to say the conclusion the doctors gave us was wrong."

Forte was convicted in 1988 on three counts of sexual assault, but the convictions were overturned by the trial court judge, who stated the prosecutor had been too emotional during her closing arguments. The conviction stems from a 1987 assault of a 12-year-old girl in Landgrove.

The next status conference is scheduled to occur in 30 days, with hopes that Tartar will consult with Forte’s cardiologist.

Contact Elizabeth Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.