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Long-delayed sex assault case finally heading to court

WNYT Staff
Created: January 13, 2020 05:21 PM

A sexual assault case dating back to the 1980s looks like it's finally headed back to court.

Leonard Forte, 78, is accused of raping a then-12-year-old girl at a vacation home in Vermont.

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But Forte claimed he was on his death bed and so a trial was delayed for more than three decades.

A status hearing that was scheduled to be held in superior court Monday was rescheduled for Jan. 23. However, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office said Monday they are ready for trial.

It's important to note that this case has always remained open and active. So any concerns about statute of limitations do not apply here.

Here's a timeline of the events:

The victim, Michelle Dinko, is now 45 years old. She claims Forte raped her multiple times in 1987 while she was vacationing with him and his daughter in Vermont.

Both Dinko and Forte lived on Long Island at the time. 

Forte was tried and convicted in this case in 1988. A jury found him guilty of three counts of sexual assault, but a judge later tossed that ruling out saying the prosecutor may have influenced the jury by being too emotional.

When the state tried to retry the case seven years later, Forte had moved to Florida and claimed he was too sick to travel for a hearing. So it was put on hold pending the outcome of his so-called life threatening condition.

Forte claims he's been dying since 1995 when he first told authorities he needed a heart transplant.

Attorneys for the prosecution say he has provided medical documentation that he has health problems over the years, but new information they've obtained is leading them to believe those have not been accurate.

“We think justice has been horribly delayed. It hasn't been entirely denied. We were concerned that the original trial judge overturned the jury verdict, and we tried again very strongly to get those verdicts reinstated and now we're going to try and do our best to bring justice to the state of Vermont and for the victim in this case,” said Assistant Attorney General Linda Purdy.

There was some confusion Monday whether Forte needed to phone in for the conference.

The judge is issuing a summons that will require that he call in on Jan. 23 and the prosecution has asked the judge to consider issuing an arrest warrant if Forte does not comply.

As of right now they hope to bring this case to trial in April.


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