State Police say Leonard Forte, ex-cop accused of child sexual assault, is dead πŸ’₯😭😭πŸ’₯

Leonard Forte’s booking photograph following his arrest in LaBelle, Florida, on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Photo courtesy of Hendry County Sheriff’s Office

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

A Florida man who for nearly 35 years dodged allegations of child sexual assault, Leonard Forte, is dead, according to the Vermont State Police. He was 80 years old.

Capt. Jeremy Hill, chief criminal investigator for the state police, confirmed Forte’s death via Major Dan Trudeau, commander of the criminal division. Forte’s lead defense attorney in Vermont, Susan McManus, also confirmed his death.

Forte’s defense attorney in Florida, James Ermacora, said Forte died on Wednesday at his home in LaBelle, a city just east of Fort Myers.

The cause of Forte’s death was not immediately available.

At the time of his death, Forte had been fighting extradition to Vermont to stand trial. On Dec. 10, the Vermont Supreme Court dealt his case a blow, dismissing an appeal that he was not physically capable of facing a jury due to various medical conditions.

Forte, a former detective with New York’s Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, had been accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl at his Landgrove vacation home in 1987. A Bennington County jury convicted him the next year of three counts of sexual assault, but a judge granted his request for a new trial β€” asserting that a female prosecutor had prejudiced the jury by being too emotional in her closing argument.

The state recharged Forte in 1997, but the case stalled for decades as he claimed to be too sick to travel from Florida to Vermont. The prosecution resumed after a 2019 investigation by the USA Today Network found that he appeared to be healthy and leading an active life in retirement.

Forte faced additional charges earlier this year in two states.

In July, Vermont prosecutors charged him with two counts of obstruction of justice, alleging that he had faked illness to avoid trial. In October, Florida prosecutors charged him with fraud and impersonation.

McManus, Forte’s Vermont attorney, declined to comment on his pending cases but said she would do so once they are dismissed by the court.

She expressed sympathy to Forte’s family on behalf of his Vermont defense team, which includes attorneys Kate Lamson and Chris Montgomery.

β€œMy co-counsel and I are mourning the loss of our client, and our prayers go out to his family during this difficult season,” McManus said.

The complainant in Forte’s sexual assault case, Michele Dinko, said she felt mixed emotions upon learning of his death. She said she initially felt disbelief, then anger and sadness that there won’t be a second trial for Forte.

β€œI’m sad that I didn’t get to get my trial,” Dinko said on Friday, a day after she heard of Forte’s death. β€œI’ve waited this long … Not much closure for me.”

Dinko, 47, said she’d been hoping Forte would finally be retried in 2022. The Bennington Superior criminal court tentatively scheduled him for a jury draw this spring after Judge Cortland Corsones ruled in June that he is physically competent to stand trial. The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Forte’s appeal affirmed Corsones’ ruling.

Dinko had been wanting to take the stand and testify against Forte, as she did in Bennington back in 1988. The mother of two said she must now find closure in a different way.

β€œI have no other choice,” she said. β€œI have to raise my children living with it.”

Leonard Forte court hearing
Judge John Valente listens as public defender Susan McManus speaks at pre-trial hearing for Leonard Forte, who at the time of his death was facing charges in a 35-year-old sex assault case. File photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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