30-year-old sex case needs to end

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We're hoping a new judge will soon be putting an end the farce that is the case of Leonard Forte. Of course, "soon" in this matter is a relative term as it's been pending for 30 years.

Forte, now 76 and living in Fort Myers, Fla. was convicted in 1988 by a jury in Vermont Superior Court on three counts of sexual assault. He was accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl at his Landgrove vacation home the year before. The convictions were overturned by the trial court judge who deemed the female prosecutor's closing arguments to be too emotional. Another judge eventually called for a new trial, but the case has been tied up in court ever since.

Forte, who now represents himself, maintains his innocence and has been asking for the case to be dismissed. In 1995 he claimed his heart condition coupled with the stress of a new trial would kill him. Since 2005 he's been required to updated the court periodically on the status of his health. Living in Fort Myers, he appears via phone.

The case now sits before local trial Judge William D. Cohen, who said recently he doesn't plan to dismiss the case without first hearing, "...fact-based evidence from a treating physician."

On July 28, Cohen ordered a hearing to be scheduled within the next two months. Forte and the Attorney General's Office, which took over prosecuting the case sometime in the late 90s, have 30 days to disclose the witnesses they intend to call.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General David E. Tartter, who came on the case in 1995. Tartter said at the last hearing that he has some regrets about the agreement made with Forte and not having reviewed medical records back then.

"If I had known 22 years later we would be here, I would have proceeded differently," he said.

Forte now says that he's in hospice care and two months ago was given six months to live. Forte also claims the alleged victim in this case isn't interested in going forward, which Tartter disputes.

The length of the case isn't the only interesting thing about it. Besides the original judge's apparent sexism, which was just short of called out by a former Attorney General, there's the matter of Forte's lawyers. He was originally assigned a public defender, but then had to hire private counsel after it was discovered that he owned a $350,000 waterfront house, six cars, and a 31-foot boat. The private attorney he ultimately hired represented him until said attorney vanished. Yes, vanished. No one knows where he went.

Interesting or not, Forte's case needs a conclusion. Regardless of how one looks at it, it's been dragged out far too long. It's not fair to the alleged victim, it's not fair to Forte, and it's not fair to the court.

"At some point, there's got to be an end to the case," Cohen said at the July 28 hearing. We agree.


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