Sydney man sentenced for 1988 murder of gay man Scott Johnson

The man was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in prison after he pled guilty to the unsolved murder of a gay man in Sydney in 1988.

A photo of Scott Johnson, victim of a 1988 Sydney murder for whom a man was sentenced to prison today.
Image: Via Twitter - @tiffgenders

Scott Whites, an Australian 51-years-old man, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for the murder of American gay mathematician Scott Johnson, who in 1988 fell off a cliff known as a gay beat in Sydney.

Johnson’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff in North Head, Sydney, in 1988. His death was initially treated by the police as a suicide, but the family of the victim did not accept this outcome and pursued justice for more than 30 years.

In 2020, there was a breakthrough in the case when Scott White was arrested after his ex-wife tipped off the police. The case was then deemed a homophobic hate crime and went on until January 10 this year, when White surprisingly pled guilty to the murder, shocking even his lawyers.

Today, May 3, Scott White appeared in the New South Wales state Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for the 1988 Sydney murder, with a non-parole period of eight years and three months.

Justice Helen Wilson found Scott White guilty of punching Scott Johnson causing him to fall off the cliff to his death. Although the murder had been treated as a homophobic hate crime, Wilson said there was not enough evidence to prove it was one “beyond reasonable doubt”, even though she deemed it “very likely” that the killing was motivated by hate towards the victim’s sexuality.

According to Wilson, White’s assault on Johnson was an act of reckless indifference to human life, since it was done on top of a dangerous cliff and the man didn’t even alert the police after Johnson fell.

The judge explained that the sentence was shortened because of some mitigating factors, which included White’s guilty plea, his difficult childhood, mental health and alcohol abuse issues. Moreover, the sentence is also shorter than what it would have been had the crime been committed today since the court had the duty to abide by the 1988 sentencing patterns.

The victim’s family had hoped the case would be ruled as a homophobic hate crime, but they still expressed joy at finally finding justice. “We’ve spent three decades asking questions that have no answers and today I feel like we’ve had answers and we’ve had justice… for our brother and that’s for the men bashed or killed in that era,” said Johnson’s sister Rebecca.

His brother also spoke up after the sentencing, saying: “We came to Australia this week and we were given a chance to express in court what we lost and the impact that Scott White had on our family, the impact that he had on my brother and the beautiful man he destroyed”. He added, “What we got this week was fairness. We didn’t get compensation for Scott this week but what Scott got was dignity.”

White’s defence team has already filed an appeal of the conviction, which means that after more than 30 years the case is still not completely closed.

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