Around three decades after 27-year-old gay American mathematician Scott Johnson’s body was found at the base of a cliff on Sydney’s northern beaches, a NSW Supreme Court sentenced his killer to 12 years imprisonment.

Sydney resident Scott White (51) was convicted of Johnson’s murder earlier this year after he sensationally pleaded guilty in court, only to retract it months later.

Trigger Warning: This story discusses a gay hate murder, 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.

Chilling New Video Reveals Sydney Man’s NSW Police Interview About 1988 Murder Of Gay American

Not Enough Evidence To Declare Murder A Gay Hate Crime

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Justice Helen Wilson on Tuesday said there was not enough evidence to declare the murder a gay hate crime “beyond reasonable doubt”, the ABC reported. The court gave White  a non-parole period of eight years and three months, which means that he will be eligible to be released on parole in August 2028. White’s lawyers have already filed an appeal against the conviction.

The case had remained unsolved for over three decades, until White’s ex-wife Helen alerted the police in 2019 about his role in the murder.

Helen told the court that her ex-husband had bragged about “bashing gays” to her and the couple’s children.

His lawyers had claimed that White himself was gay. He was 18 at the time of the murder and was afraid of his brother finding out about his sexuality. White claimed that he had met Johnson at the Brighton hotel and both had then gone to the clifftop, which was a well known gay beat.

Johnson’s murder was one of the unsolved cases during the spate of anti-gay and anti-trans hate crimes that took place in Sydney between 1970 and 2010.

Johnson had moved to Australia with his partner of nine years Michael Noone. He was based in Canberra and was living with Noone and his parents at the time of the murder.

Johnson’s Body Found at Base of  Cliff Near Manly’s North Head

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Johnson’s 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 police initially concluded that Johnson had died by suicide and a second inquest in June 2012 returned an open finding. A third inquest in 2017 found that Johnson was murdered and his killing was a gay hate crime.

In 2018, NSW police announced a $ 1 million reward for information and in March 2020 Johnson’s brother Steve Johnson, who lives in the United States, matched the reward offered, bringing the total reward to $2 million.

NSW homicide detectives arrested White in May 2020 and he was charged with the murder. White pleaded not guilty and faced trial. However, White shocked his legal team in January this year, when he declared in court: “Guilty. I’m guilty. Guilty.”

White’s lawyers attempted to reverse his guilty plea claiming he was under a lot of “stress” and “anxiety,” had an “intellectual disability” and was “distressed” prior to his court hearing.  Justice Wilson rejected the plea and convicted White for Johnson’s murder. In April 2022, the court dismissed a plea by his legal team seeking to vacate the sentencing proceedings till White’s appeal against his conviction was heard.

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.

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