BENNINGTON -- A sex assault case that has been pending for 26 years will be pending for another seven months while the defendant's new doctor monitors his health.

Leonard Forte, 72, of Fort Myers, Fla. was charged in 1987 with three counts of sexual assault on a 12-year-old girl. He was convicted by a jury, but all three convictions were overturned, sparking appeals from the state and decades of odd legal twists and turns.

Forte's ill health has been the core issue fueling the on-going case. He has so far successfully argued the stress of a new trial could kill him and for the past several years has been appearing in Vermont Superior Court via telephone to give updates on his health and his status on a heart transplant list.

After the trial, Forte suffered four heart attacks.

Deputy Attorney General David Tartter, who is prosecuting the case, told the court Thursday via telephone that a scheduled deposition with Forte's new doctor took place in November. He said the doctor wants to observe Forte over the next six months, saying he has patients in a similar situation who have done well over a six-month period while others have not. At Tartter's suggestion, Judge Nancy Corsones set a status conference for July.

The case began to move late last year when Forte informed the court he had been removed from the transplant list.

Forte has been representing himself since his attorney disappeared a number of years ago, another strange event in the case's long history. He has repeatedly asked for the case to be dismissed.

It was initially dismissed after the trial court judge ruled that the prosecutor, now a judge herself, was too emotional in her closing arguments. Another judge overturned that decision, however, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered that decision reexamined. A third judge ordered a new trial, and rather than keep arguing, the state chose to do that.