Saturday March 16, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A sex assault case that has been pending against a former police investigator for 25 years will continue until at least May when he can meet with his doctors and inform the state about the condition of his heart and his status on a transplant list.

Leonard Forte, now 72, who has residences in Long Island, N.Y., and Fort Myers, Fla., first pleaded not guilty to three counts of sexual assault in 1987 for allegedly assaulting a 12-year-old girl in Landgrove. Although a jury convicted him of those charges the following year, the trial judge overturned the convictions because, according to the judge, the prosecuting attorney was overly emotional in her closing argument.

Keeping the case open has been Forte's heart. After his conviction he suffered four heart attacks and argued that the stress of a new trial, ordered by a judge who reviewed appeals on the initial convictions, could kill him.

Since 2005 Forte has been appearing at regular status conferences via phone to update the court on his health status as well as his position on a heart transplant list. Recently Forte informed the court he had been taken off the list, which prompted the case to come up for review. Friday, however, Forte indicated he had been put back on the list.

In January, Judge Cortland Corsones ordered that Forte would have to provide contact information for his medical providers to the state Office of the Attorney General as well as give his doctors release forms allowing them to discuss his medical condition.


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The matter was set for a hearing Friday in which Forte and Assistant Attorney General David Tarter appeared via telephone.

The case has been prosecuted through Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division by the Vermont Office of the Attorney General.

Forte said he had not received medical release forms from the Attorney General while Tarter said he was not aware it fell on him to provide the forms. Tarter agreed to send the documents to Forte but required his mailing address. Forte expressed anxiety about giving his information in open court saying he has been "inundated" by calls from reporters recently and he is refusing to speak to them. Corsones ordered the court room closed temporarily.

A phone number and mailing address are on file with the court accessible through a public computer terminal. Calls made to Forte in the past have not been returned.

When the court reopened it was agreed that after a meeting between Forte and his doctors, scheduled for May 9, that his health condition would be relayed to the Attorney General's Office which could make a decision on how to proceed with the case. Corsones also placed the case on the July trial calendar.

Forte has been representing himself since the late 1990s when his attorney vanished. He hired that lawyer after his public defender was reassigned because it was found that Forte owned a $350,000 waterfront house in Florida, six cars, and a 31-foot boat and did not qualify for the service.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr