Suspected murderer of American gay man Scott Johnson has conviction overturned

Scott White was sentenced in May to 12 years and seven months in prison for the 1988 murder of gay man Scott Johnson.

Left: Photo of gay man Scott Johnson murdered in 1988. Right: Photo of Scott White, who was convicted and sentenced to Johnson’s murder in May.
Image: Via Twitter: @ajplus @tiffgenders

An Australian court has overturned the conviction of Scott White for the murder of a gay man, Scott Johnson, in 1988. At the time, the body of the 27-year-old mathematics student was found naked at the bottom of a cliff in Manly, a suburb of Sydney. White was taken into custody following his ex-wife alerting the authorities in 2019. In May of this year, he was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for the murder.

However, according to Gay Times, only 30 minutes after he pleaded guilty in court, White retracted his plea and signed a statement saying that he did not kill Scott Johnson. In the statement, White admitted that he was “confused” when he pleaded guilty and wanted to change the plea.

The New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction from May, taking Scott White’s withdrawal of his guilty plea into consideration. The court said in a statement that “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 interest of justice test been applied to the White’s application for leave to withdraw his plea of guilty.”

The court maintains that this is a situation where the case against the accused isn’t overwhelming. However, they continued by saying that the possibility of a lesser conviction, perhaps for manslaughter (or a complete acquittal) cannot be ruled out. The new developments in the case have resulted in the call for a retrial, with hearings taking place from December 1.

Following the discovery of Scott Johnson’s body, Australian police ruled his death as a suicide, even though this decision faced pushback from the family of the victim. An enquiry from 2017 concluded that the death was most likely caused by a hate crime, and Johnson’s family announced an AUS $2 million reward, appealing for information about the case.

This subsequently led to the arrest of Scott White at his home in Sydney in May 2020. In 2019, it was Helen White, ex-wife of Scott White, who had originally alerted the police regarding her ex-husband’s alleged involvement in the 1988 murder. It is reported in ABC Australia that she had asked him twice whether he had murdered Scott Johnson.

Helen told the court that she asked her husband at the time about his involvement in 1988 and then again in 2008.  She had previously heard her then-husband brag about bashing gay men, reportedly telling the court that Scott White had said that the “only good p*****r is a dead p*****r,” and that it wasn’t his fault if the “dumb c**t had run off the cliff”.

As per ABC Australia, the court was told that at the time of the murder, Scott White was an 18-year-old struggling with his own sexuality in a homophobic household. It subsequently emerged in court that White is in fact a gay man.

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