Crime

Man admits to killing Scott Johnson, gay student whose murder has haunted Australia for 30 years

Lily Wakefield January 13, 2022
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Gay man Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson. (Justice For Scott Facebook page)

Scott White admitted in court that he is “guilty, guilty, guilty” of the murder of gay US student Scott Johnson in Sydney in 1988.

Johnson’s body was found naked at the bottom of a cliff in New South Wales more than three decades ago, and his death was initially ruled a suicide.

But Johnson’s family tirelessly campaigned for justice, and finally, a 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled that he had likely died as a result of a homophobic hate crime.

The police offered a $1 million reward to anyone who came forward with information that led to a prosecution, and this was matched by Johnson’s brother Steve, bringing the total rewards to $2 million.

Thirty-two years after Johnson was killed, in May 2020, Scott White was arrested at his home in Sydney and charged with murder.

Scott White was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12, charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988.
Scott White was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12, charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988. (NSW Police Force/ Twitter)

While White’s lawyers had planned to argue for his innocence, at a pre-trial hearing in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Monday (10 January), White shocked them by declaring himself “guilty, guilty, guilty”.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Supreme Court justice Helen Wilson said that White repeated the word “guilty” at least three times, and that he was “very emphatic”, “very determined and very firm”.

White’s barrister Belinda Rigg argued for White’s plea to be vacated, insisting her client had an intellectual disability and was suffering from stress and anxiety.

She said he had made similar comments in the past under stress, but when calm, wanted to take his case to trial.

But Justice Wilson refused to vacate the guilty plea, and on Thursday (13 January), White was convicted of Johnson’s murder.

He is due to appear in court for sentencing on 2 May, 2022, however Rigg suggested that White might appeal the conviction.

At the time of White’s arrest, police said they were planning to argue at trial that the then 18-year-old met Johnson at a hotel before heading to the Bluefish Point clifftops, an area where gay men met for casual sex.

After Johnson removed his clothes, police believe White panicked and punched Johnson, at which point he fell to his death.

Scott Johnson was a ‘brilliant’ mathematician and ‘proud’ gay man

After Scott White was convicted, Scott Johnson’s brother Steve said it “wasn’t easy” to have fought for justice for so long, but that finally his faith had been “restored”, according to the Daily Mail.

Describing Johnson as a “proud” gay man and his best friend, he added: “[My brother] was brilliant, but more modest than he was brilliant, so you would never hear him say that.

“The last conversation we know he had was with his [university] professor … as far as his professor was concerned, my brother could get a job at any university in the world.”

At the time of his death, 27-year-old Johnson had almost finished his PhD in maths.

He had moved from the US to Sydney to be with his partner Michael Noone in 1986, after they met as students at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

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