Scott White convicted of 1988 murder of Scott Johnson

A Sydney court has found 50-year-old Scott White guilty of the 1988 ‘gay hate’ murder of Scott Johnson.

The long running investigation took an unexpected twist on Monday when the accused man declared he was “guilty, guilty, guilty” during an arraignment hearing.

Details of the case could not be reported due to a suppression order, but that has now been lifted, allowing the world to know that a conviction has been recorded.

White’s legal team tried to have his declaration of guilt removed, but the judge ruled it was clearly stated and found him guilty of the murder.

American mathematician Scott Johnson came to Sydney as a student. In 1988 the 27-year-old’s body was found at the bottom of cliffs at Sydney’s North Head.

The Coroner’s inquest ruled his death a suicide, but his family fought for decades to have his case re-examined. It was not until a third inquest into his death in 2017 that it was ruled that he most likely died as the result of a gay hate crime.

The case had received wide spread media attention after a $1 million reward was offered in 2018. The reward was later doubled to $2 million after Steve Johnson, the victim’s brother added the additional amount.

Police arrested Scott White in May 2020 at his home in Lane Cover on Sydney’s lower north shore, 32 years after he committed the crime.

Prosecutors said that White met Johnson at a hotel on the 10th December 1988, before walking together to a nearby gay beat. At the beat Johnson removed his clothes before White attacked him, resulting in Johnson falling from the high cliff.

On Monday at an arraignment hearing the judge expected to hear submissions on what evidence would be deemed admissible in the case which was set down for trial in May, but when White was asked to restate his plea he surprised his own legal team by repetitively stating he was guilty.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson asked White’s barrister Belinda Rigg whether he spoke in error, but she was unable to say for certain.

As the court “can’t be assured that was simply a mistake”, Justice Wilson said the court would need to ascertain if White was changing his previously submitted plea of ‘not guilty’.

The hearing was adjourned and reconvened to look at vacating the plea. The court heard that White had on previous occasions indicated that he wanted to plead guilty, but he had accepted legal advice from his team that he had a strong case.

Today the judge refused an application to remove his guilty plea and convicted him of the murder. The court heard that White had previously confessed to police that he had committed the crime, but he later withdrew his confession.

Rigg indicated her client intended to appeal against his conviction. He is due to return to court for sentencing on 2nd May 2022.

Today Steve Johnson said it has been very hard to prove that his brother had been murdered but today is faith had been restored.

“I think primarily I’m feeling relief and I am thinking about my brother and that a lot of people cared about him to bring this result today,” Steve Johnson said.

The family said they were relieved that a trial would no longer be necessary and that White had “found it in his soul” to plead guilty.

OIP Staff


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