I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll and this is the Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.
‘I’ve been dying for 25 years, your honor. I’m sorry I’m still alive.’
That’s what a former New York detective told a Vermont judge, asking him again to delay his court appearance on charges that he repeatedly raped and molested his daughter’s 12-year-old friend.
In 1996, Leonard Forte told the judge he was on a heart transplant list and, without the heart, would die within the year. The prosecutor agreed to delay the trial until he was “medically able to withstand a trial.” Forte was to check in every six months.
In 2019, USA TODAY Network reporters found the dying detective is a retiree in Florida who collects boats and takes vacations.
Michele Dinko, the 12-year-old, is now 45 and has spent most of her life waiting for Forte to face his charges.
How did they piece it together? Sources, records and time.
USA TODAY has been publishing a series this year called Tarnished Brass, stories of police officers who are not held accountable for their misconduct.
Gus Garcia-Roberts got a tip on Forte, the retired New York detective, and went to work. That typically starts with pulling records, but the Vermont courts had lost many of the audio recordings and transcripts needed.
Over months, Garcia-Roberts and Burlington Free Press reporter Elizabeth Murray patiently pieced together proof of the repeated delay. (“In 2012, he said he’d been removed from the transplant list because his situation was so dire. In 2014, he said he was undergoing a surgical procedure with up to an 85% likelihood of death. In 2017, he said he’d been referred to hospice care and had six months to live.”)
What was he doing during that time? Devan Patel of the Naples Daily News requested records from the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office. He found on at least 11 occasions since 2009, Forte and his wife had asked for law enforcement patrols around their house while they were away. Patel found the Facebook account of Forte’s wife and discovered the patrols synced up with social media posts detailing their RV trips to New York and an outing to Disney World in Orlando.
Dinko is angry. At Forte for stalling. At the prosecutor for letting it happen.
She told Garcia-Roberts she’s still willing to testify. “I would definitely do it, just because how dare you, and everybody else? All these years we’ve let go by and you’ve lived your life like nothing happened.”
Garcia-Roberts tried to reach Forte. He called repeatedly. He sent a letter asking for comment. Our photographer took a picture of Forte in his yard. But when Patel knocked on the door, Forte’s wife said he didn’t live there anymore. After he asked where we might reach him, she said: “I can’t tell you. It’s a personal matter.” Patel showed her the photo, and she asked him to leave.
Forte will have to talk soon. He is required to update the court on his health every six months.
His next hearing is Dec. 9.
When you grow up in Texas, Thanksgiving is just as much about the Cowboys as it is about the food.
The Dallas Cowboys have played at home on Thanksgiving Day all but two years since 1966. The tradition started when the NFL wanted to expand play on Thanksgiving Day, and Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm seized the opportunity. (The Detroit Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving even longer, first playing in 1934.)
Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, the game was always on, with my big brother watching from the couch, nervously tossing a football up and down. At halftime, he’d grab me and my sister for a front-yard game. He was always Roger Staubach.
USA TODAY reporter Jori Epstein writes for those fans (perhaps also nervously) watching the game each week. She has covered the Cowboys the past four years and aims to help you get to know the players, the team. Take her recent story on the trust between wide receiver Amari Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott, and how it helps Cooper make those improbable sideline catches.
“We played the Eagles (in Week 7) and I made that sideline catch and (Prescott) was like, ‘Man, you a bad guy,’ ” Cooper told Epstein. “Dak was like, ‘Man, you bad.’
“He could have just thought that in his head. But he said it out loud to me, and that just let me know that the trust is getting more and more.”
For a story about Prescott and Cooper solving riddles together, Cooper told Epstein: “I feel like I can talk about anything with Dak, whether it’s something intellectual or not.”
This past Sunday, Epstein interviewed owner Jerry Jones in New England, where he criticized the Cowboys’ coaching against the New England Patriots. She said Jones, known to be a talker, was more forthcoming than usual.
“Once Jerry starts talking, he’ll answer any question,” Epstein says. “He’ll always give us a thoughtful answer, and he always makes eye contact with us.”
But her favorite stories are those that help you better understand the game and the players. “I want to take you inside the locker room,” she says. “What are the Cowboys thinking, feeling and saying? What can I tell our USA TODAY readers that they won’t already know from watching the game?”
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Benjamin C. Bradlee “Editor of the Year” and proud mom of three. Comments? Questions? Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. If you’d like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.