BENNINGTON — The court will schedule a hearing after the New Year on a man’s request to dismiss his three-decade-old child sexual assault case because he is too sick to undergo another trial.
Leonard Forte, 79, a former New York resident who now lives in Florida, is charged with three counts of sexual assault dating back to 1987. He was convicted at trial in 1988, but the presiding judge ordered a new trial, saying the female prosecutor had prejudiced the jury by being too emotional.
Until the case attracted national media scrutiny in November, it had been in limbo since the ‘90s, when Forte claimed he has a terminal illness and a new trial could kill him.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office took over his prosecution in January, vowing to retry the case.
For months now, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been reviewing Forte’s medical records in preparation for a crucial hearing: one that would take up his claim that he is too ill to face a second trial. Both sides are preparing to present witnesses considered experts in their field.
The evidentiary hearing date had not been set as of Thursday, but the court will schedule it over 2-1/2 days, according to Superior Judge Cortland Corsones’ written order following a status hearing on Sept. 21.
Forte has named three experts and the state one, attorneys said at the hearing.
Forte has until Nov. 30 to provide prosecutors with its expert witness reports. The state has until Jan. 4 to do the same.
The parties are still discussing whether Forte would participate in the evidentiary hearing through a remote means of communication.
The attorneys are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 11 for a “status conference” ahead of the evidentiary hearing.
The case has experienced delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the postponement of all but emergency hearings and the suspension of jury trials statewide.
The Attorney General’s Office said it remains committed to taking the case to trial. Prosecutors have described it as “perhaps one of the oldest criminal cases on the books in U.S. history.”
The case victim, who had been 12 during the alleged assault, said she is ready to return to court and testify.