The man accused of murdering gay American Scott Johnson, whose body was discovered at the bottom of a Sydney-side cliff, was convicted Thursday, after admitting to the 1988 killing.

In May 2020, according to ABC News, Scott White was arrested and charged with murder “after a key informant named him as a suspect.”

According to Sydney Morning Herald, Mr White pleaded guilty at a pre-trial hearing in the NSW Supreme Court, on Monday. He reportedly said he is, “guilty, guilty, guilty” in what,  Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson described as being “in a manner which was very determined and very firm, and using a loud and clear voice.”

Wilson also said that when the 50-year-old made the admission, he was “very emphatic.” Still, she refused to reverse the plea his barrister Belinda Rigg had presented, which was on the grounds that Mr White suffers from “stress” and “anxiety,” has an “intellectual disability,” and was “distressed prior to his court appearance on Monday.”

Scott White Being Arrested. Image: NSW Police Twitter reported 27-year-old Mr Johnson was found dead by spearfishermen at the “base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point, near Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988.” His clothes were laid out neatly on the clifftop above.

Three Formal Inquests Into the Cold Case

There were three formal inquests into the cold case. It was only upon the third inquest in 2017 that NSW coroner Michael Barnes found the young mathematician was the victim of a gay hate crime.

As ABC News reported, Mr Barnes concluded Mr Johnson had fallen off the cliff “as a result of actual or threatened violence” due to his sexual orientation, and that the “NSW police did not adequately investigate deaths near gay beats.”

Mr Johnson was on a student visa. He had moved to Australia in 1986 to be with his Australian partner Michael Noone and was completing his PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra. They were staying at the Noone family home in Lane Cove.

In 2018, the NSW government offered a $1 million reward for information about Mr Johnson’s killer or killers.

Scott Johnson, A ‘Proud’ Gay Man

Steve Johnson, the brother of the American national victim, doubled that reward in 2020.

Johnson has been travelling between the US and Australia for more than 30 years, trying to solve the case and has spent approximately a million dollars on a private investigator to uncover who killed his brother.

He said proving the death was a homicide “wasn’t easy,” but his faith had now been “restored.” He also described his brother as being a “proud” gay man.

“I’d like to think any brother would do this for their brother, I know Scott would have done this for me,” Johnson said after Thursday’s proceeding. “We were remarkably close, even for brothers.”

He added, “I think he (White) deserves what he has coming to him, it’s a very sad, tragic thing that he did.”

Steve Johnson. Image: ABC News

Sentencing Hearing on May 2

White will return to court for sentencing on May 2, if his request for an appeal of the conviction does not cause delay.

Jack Whitney, the co-convenor for the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, issued a statement, posted to the organisation’s Facebook page.

In it, he wrote, “Today Scott Johnson’s murderer was found guilty, ending Sydney’s longest-running unsolved gay hate crimes. Today is a day for justice. A day for Scott Johnson and his family. A day that many thought would never come. Thank you to the survivors and the advocates. Our thoughts are with Scott Johnson’s loved ones.”

ACON Health in New South Wales tweeted, “ACON sincerely hopes that today’s guilty conviction of the man involved in the murder of Scott Johnson goes a long way in providing solace, peace and resolution to Scott’s family and friends.”

In October, a memorial was unveiled at Marks Park in Tamarama, dedicated to the victims and survivors of the wave of homophobic and transphobic attacks that took place in NSW from the 1970s to the 1990s.

There were around 88 suspected deaths of gay men and trans women. Around 23 remain unsolved to this day.


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For 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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