NSW Court Quashes Man’s Conviction In 1988 Death Of Gay American Mathematican Scott Johsnon

NSW Court Quashes Man’s Conviction In 1988 Death Of Gay American Mathematican Scott Johsnon
Image: Scott Johnson. Images: NSW Police

A NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Friday set aside the conviction of Scott White (51), who was jailed in May 2022 after pleading guilty to the 1988 murder of gay American mathematician Scott Johnson. 

White was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after he surprised his lawyers and unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the crime. 

Trigger Warning: This story discusses the brutal death of a gay man and anti-LGBTQI hate crimes, which might be distressing to some readers. 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.

Chief Justice Andrew Bell, Justices Richard Button, and Natalie Adams quashed the conviction and also set aside the order dismissing White’s application to withdraw his guilty plea. The case will now go for a retrial and will be mentioned before the court on December 1, 2022.

Johnson’s naked body was found on the morning of December 10, 1988, at the base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point, near Manly’s North Head on Sydney’s northern beaches. The area, a well-known gay beat, is the site of many unsolved deaths of gay men. Initially termed by investigators as a suicide, an inquest in 2017 concluded that Johnson’s death near the gay beat was a gay hate crime.

‘Guilty, Guilty, Guilty’

A screen grab of the video of Scott White’s interview with NSW Police detectives (right) on May 11, 2020, in connection with the 1988 murder of gay American Scott Johnson (left).

White was arrested in 2020, a year after his ex-wife had alerted police about her husband’s possible involvement in Johnson’s killing. Initially,  White pleaded not guilty, but at a pre-trial hearing in January 2022 he told the NSW Supreme Court “guilty, I’m guilty, guilty, yes, guilty”.

White signed a statement within 30 minutes of his guilty plea that he was “stressed”, hungry and worried that his wife Helen would come after him. He claimed that he had seen the police point at him and Johnson’s brother had been in court. In his statement, he sought to withdraw his guilty plea.

White’s lawyers’ attempt to get the guilty plea reversed failed and in May 2022, the court held him guilty of murder. Justice Helen Wilson ruled there was no evidence to conclude “beyond reasonable doubt” that Johnson’s murder was a gay hate crime.

‘MisCarriage Of Justice’

Scott White Being Arrested. Image: NSW Police Twitter

The Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that the trial court had applied the “wrong legal test” in dismissing White’s application to withdraw his guilty plea.

“In the present case we are unable to conclude that no substantial miscarriage of justice actually occurred because, although the matter might be thought to be finely balanced, we are not persuaded that the result would have been the same had the interests of justice test been applied to the White’s application for leave to withdraw his plea of guilty,” said the Court of Criminal Appeal.

“This is not a situation where “the case against the accused is overwhelming”, or in which, if the matter proceeded to trial, a guilty verdict for the murder charge would be a foregone conclusion. The possibility of a lesser conviction, of manslaughter for example, or indeed complete acquittal, cannot be ruled out,” the Court of Criminal Appeal added.

Gay Hate Deaths

Johnson’s murder was one of the unsolved cases during the spate of murders of gay men and trans women that took place in Sydney between 1970 and 2010. A Special Commission of Inquiry is currently looking into the unsolved anti-LGBTQI hate crime deaths.

White’s ex-wife Helen had told the court that he had often bragged to her and the couple’s six children about bashing gay men in the past. After coming across a photograph of Johnson, Helen said she asked White if he was one of his victims.

“I remember asking him if this is one of the gay men he bashed?”

“He said ‘that girly looking p****r’,” Helen told the court, adding: “he quite often bragged about bashing ‘p*****rs’.”

Helen said that in 2008, she again asked White, “did you do this?”

White, according to Helen, replied, “the only good p****r is a dead p*****r”. She recalled that she again asked him: “So, you threw him off the cliff?”

White replied: “It’s not my fault the dumb f**k ran off the cliff.” Helen said she had responded: “Well it is, if you chased him.”

I Pushed The Bloke

scott johnson gay hate crimes
Scott Johnson.

Two unnamed witnesses had attended White’s home in March 2020 and engaged him in conversation regarding Johnson’s death.

During this conversation, White admitted that he had been at North Head with Johnson, who he described as having an “American accent” and a “good build”. During the course of the conversations, he also admitted that he hit Johnson and saw him go over the cliff edge.

On March 19, 2020, White told the two witnesses that “being gay was his biggest secret, because his brother and his family ‘hate[d] gays’”. On a drive from the Lane Cove area to Manly. White told the witnesses that he had dreamt about Johnson.

“I pushed the bloke, he went over the edge,” White told the police detectives referring to Johnson.

After his arrest, White in his interview with the police acknowledged that he had told the witnesses that he had “pushed a bloke. He went over the edge.” In the video, he said that it was all “rubbish” and “all full of shit” and he had said what he had to “get these guys off me back”.

If you have any information about the anti-gay and anti-trans hate crimes that occurred between 1970 and 2010 in NSW, you can contact:


If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

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.


You May Also Like

One response to “NSW Court Quashes Man’s Conviction In 1988 Death Of Gay American Mathematican Scott Johsnon”

  1. I at first was really offended by the use of the term: “p***ter” – because I have heard that word used in my direction in the past, but the best reaction is to laugh at the person saying it, or at least smile. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory you are at least allowed to carry pepper spray for self-defense. Every Gay male needs some form of self-defense and classes need to be promoted to help them learn how to stay calm and defend themselves and take it seriously in the eastern states. That Scott White guy wanted to get the police off his back – and he risked a life sentence just to temporarily do that? Sounds odd to me.