Gay man found smashed to death at the bottom of a cliff was killed in homophobic hate crime, says coroner
A gay man who fell to his death was likely killed in a homophobic attack, a coroner has found.
27-year-old American Scott Johnson was found naked and dead at the bottom of a 200-foot cliff in New South Wales, Australia.
The mathematician, who was studying for a doctorate at Australian National University, was ruled to have died by suicide soon after his death in December 1988.
But state coroner Michael Barnes found today that Johnson “fell from the cliff top as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual.”
Scott was in a relationship with Australian music PhD student Michael Noone, who he met at Cambridge University, and was in the process of applying for permanent residency in the country.
In his inquest report, Barnes criticised the police for its initial finding of suicide, calling it “inadequate”.
He outlined how Scott had told an associate professor at the university that “he intended to spend Christmas with the Noone family”.
The same professor said that Scott had spoken about how he was “looking forward to becoming an uncle,” Barnes wrote.
The area was also a hotbed of anti-gay attacks, the coroner said.
There were “youths involved in systematically assaulting gay men” at the time.
Police are currently investigating the possibility that as many as 88 men could have been murdered in the area by attackers targeting people they knew or perceived to be gay.
Barnes said: “I conclude that it is very likely that gay hate crimes were committed at the relevant location at around the time Scott died.”
He added that because of Scott’s age and physical condition, there was probably more than one perpetrator.
“In this case, I readily conclude that homicide is more likely than either of the other two scenarios – accident or suicide.
“It is likely that more than one person was involved – Scott was young and strong and fit.”
The victim’s brother Steve Johnson told reporters: “Scott’s killers are probably alive. Their friends know who they are.
“I wish they would come forward,” he added, according to The Australian.
On a Facebook page called Justice for Scott Johnson, the victim’s relatives wrote: “Our family is grateful to so many for this ruling after 29 years.
“A homicide investigation must now begin to bring Scott’s killers finally to justice.”
Barnes endorsed this kind of urging in his report, writing: “Justice might be a nebulous concept but it certainly includes holding the perpetrators of violent crimes to account.
“The family’s call for a continuing investigation is therefore entirely understandable.”
However, he added that a murder charge was improbable.
“It is likely that further inquiries could be made into this matter but there is no basis for a high level of confidence that it would produce the outcome the family understandably seeks,” he said.
The coroner paid tribute to the deceased, writing: “When Scott Johnson’s body smashed into the rocks near the ocean just north of Blue Fish Point on North Head, a life full of promise and exciting potential was tragically cut short and his family lost a cherished member.”