Forte no longer required to check in with authorities

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BENNINGTON — A man charged in a 1987 sexual assault case no longer needs to report to authorities weekly because he hasn't tried to flee prosecution all these decades, a judge ruled Thursday.

Leonard Forte, 78, is facing three counts of sexual assault, allegedly committed against a 12-year-old girl at his vacation home in Landgrove. He has been free on a $2,000 bail while his case remained in limbo after his 1988 conviction was overturned.

The state Attorney General's Office is working to retry the case amid Forte's long-running claim that he is suffering from a terminal illness and that a trial could kill him.

Prosecutors asked the Superior Court on Thursday to ensure that Forte is reporting in person to out-of-state authorities two days a week — a condition of his jail release imposed in 1988.

The court could also order new conditions to guarantee Forte's court appearances now that a trial is "looming large," said Assistant Attorney General Linda Purdy., one of the four prosecutors. A retired New York police investigator when he was charged, Forte is now living in Labelle, Fla., and appears for hearings by phone.

Forte's lawyers, on the other hand, asked that the court remove the check-ins in Naples, Fla. Defense attorney Susan McManus argued that Vermont law says courts should impose the least restrictive conditions to secure a defendant's court appearances.

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Judge John Valente granted the defense's request, citing Forte's record of regularly appearing for hearings.

The prosecution told the court also that the transcript of Forte's original trial has been found, contrary to some media reports.

"There are no missing files," Purdy said. "Nobody destroyed any files."

Besides Forte, also phoning in at yesterday's hearing was the victim in the case, who is now in her mid-40s. The court allowed her to listen in on the hearings though she wasn't permitted to speak.

Forte's next hearing hasn't been set. Valente said he would release a schedule to guide how the case would move forward after the state and defense said they couldn't agree on one. The state wants to fast-track it toward trial, whereas the recently appointed defense attorneys want more time to study the case.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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