Ex-Cop Charged With Sexual Assault Dies, Prosecutors Still Want Justice for Alleged Victim

Vermont prosecutors are fighting to keep the case of an ex-police officer charged with the sexual assault of a girl over 30 years ago in the public record after a judge dismissed the charges against him Tuesday after he died in December.

The Bennington County State's Attorney's Office filed charges against now-deceased Leonard Forte, 80, for the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in 1988. However, Superior Court Jude Corland Corsones dismissed the charges against him, the Associated Press reported.

Under Vermont law, when a judge dismisses the charges against an individual, the case is automatically sealed and expunged from the official record within 60 days unless the defense or prosecution objects to the records being sealed in the interest of justice, according to the state's Bennington Banner.

Prosecutors asked the judge not to have the case removed from the public record, saying that doing so would be a miscarriage of justice for the alleged victim, the AP added.

"To seal or expunge the records in these cases would be the final miscarriage of justice in a case in which the interests of justice have never been served," said Deputy State's Attorney Linda Purdy, according to the Banner.

"The interests of justice must now apply to the victim, who was 12-years-old when she was sexually assaulted, and 14 when she testified 33 years ago, and who has fought hard and long for her day in court again," Purdy was quoted by the newspaper.

Forte, a former investigator for the New York Suffolk County District Attorney's office, was accused of sexually assaulting and molesting his daughter's 12-year-old friend at their family's vacation home in Landgrove, Vermont, online news outlet Jacksonville.com reported.

Law and justice
The Bennington County, Vermont, State's Attorney's Office filed charges against now-deceased Leonard Forte in connection to an alleged sexual assault in 1988. Above, a judge's gavel is pictured upon a table. Zolnierek/iStock Plus/Getty Images

Forte was charged and convicted on three counts of sexual assault in 1988. However, a judge granted Forte a new trial claiming the female prosecutor had prejudiced the jury by being too emotional during the trial, according to Jacksonville.com.

He was charged again in 1997, but Forte said he was unable to travel from Florida, where he lived, to Vermont to stand trial because of a heart condition, the AP reported.

However, Jacksonville.com reported that Forte never received a heart transplant he claimed he needed before he could travel, and yet he still lived as a retiree in Florida. Courts ruled last year that he was fit to stand trial, and he was set to be extradited back to Vermont to face the charges.

Leonard Forte Charges Dismissed After Death
A Vermont judge dismissed the sexual assault charges against Leonard Forte, pictured above, for a 1988 crime after he died in his Florida home waiting to be extradited to stand trial. Prosecutors are fighting to keep the case a part of public record instead of having it sealed and expunged under state law. Hendry County Sheriff's Office

While waiting to go back to Vermont, Forte died at his Florida home from sudden cardiac arrest caused by atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension on December 22, according to the Banner, which obtained his death certificate.

In the motion, Purdy said the victim has been denied access to justice by waiting decades for Forte to be retried.

​​"Expungement would amount to the court permanently deleting any record in this case, as if the victim had never reported, the defendant had never been charged, and as if there had been no trial resulting in convictions that were set aside—in fact as if this case never existed at all," the motion said, according the Banner.

According to the AP, the court's hearing for the state's request to keep the case in the public record has been scheduled for March 14.

Specialists from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) sexual assault hotline are available 24/7 via phone (1 (800) 656-4673) and online chat. Additional support from the group is also accessible via the mobile app.