One of Australia’s longest-standing unsolved murder investigations has finally come to a close. Scott White pled guilty to a 1988 murder in Sydney, where he pushed Scott Johnson off a cliff in what is being deemed a homophobic hate crime.
White made the confession on Monday, January 10, but the admission was not revealed publicly until today as his barrister, Belinda Rigg, unsuccessfully argued that he was not fit to make the statement. The admission shocked his legal team, as during his pre-trial hearing he declared, “Guilty. I am guilty. Guilty.”
Justice Helen Wilson refused to vacate the plea, saying the defendant was “very emphatic […] very determined and very firm”. Rigg has since suggested that White may appeal his conviction.
Scott Johnson’s naked body was found at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head in Sydney on December 10, 1988. The death was considered a suicide for many years, but the mathematician’s family insisted that he was a victim of a homophobic hate crime, and campaigned to open a murder investigation on the case.
The conviction comes after a 34 year-long search for the perpetrator, which included two police investigations, three coronial inquests and a record $2 million reward. In 2018, the NSW government announced a $1 million reward for information, and in 2020, the victim’s brother, Steve Johnson, doubled the amount.
BREAKING – Scott White has just been found guilty of the murder of Scott Johnson 33 years ago following a sensational change to his plea in court. He shouted “Guilty. I am guilty. Guilty.” His lawyers tried and failed to have that overturned. pic.twitter.com/StjMLC5ESq
— Andrew Denney (@Andrew_Denney) January 13, 2022
White was arrested at his home in Lane Cove in 2020 after an informant came forward with new information. Detectives said that the 49 year-old was not surprised when they came to his door, but he initially pleaded not guilty in January 2021.
In response to White’s confession, Steve Johnson said he was, “Bewildered to say the least”.
“The accused found it in his soul to confess and plead guilty and put an end to this, I’m very happy about that,” he continued. “I am feeling relief and I am thinking about my brother.”
Scott Johnson moved from the US to Australia in 1986 to be with his partner Michael Noone. He split his time between Sydney and Canberra where he was completing his PhD. He was just 27 years-old at the time of his death. “He was a brilliant, gentle, wonderful man… He was my best friend,” remembered his brother.
Scott White is due to appear in court on May 2, 2022, where he will receive sentencing for the 1988 murder in Sydney.
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