The man jailed for the murder of gay man Scott Johnson in 1988 after unexpectedly pleading guilty has won an appeal against the conviction and will likely go to trial.
American mathematician Scott Johnson was found dead in Sydney at the base of a cliff near Manly’s North Head on December 10, 1988. He was 27.
Police considered his death a suicide for many years, but his family always believed he was murdered.
And in May 2020, police charged Scott Phillip White over Johnson’s death.
White denied murdering Scott Johnson, before saying “guilty, I am guilty” in a shock outburst during a pre-trial court hearing in January.
The man later told his lawyers, “I didn’t do it but I’m saying I’m doing it … it’s the only way, she’s going to come after me,” referring to his ex-wife.
White’s lawyers argued that the plea shouldn’t have been accepted by the judge.
But the prosecution argued it was “very significant” that White told his lawyers “this is not a split [sic] decision … I’ve been thinking about this”.
A Supreme Court judge refused to allow White to reverse his plea, the 52-year-old was sentenced to at least eight years and three months in jail.
Scott White wins appeal, case will likely go to trial
Scott White later appealed against the conviction, arguing he should have been allowed to reverse his plea.
Last month, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal considered whether it was “in the interests of justice” to permit him to do so.
And on Friday, White won, with the Court of Criminal Appeal quashing the Sydney man’s conviction.
The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal found the judge made a legal error in refusing to allow White to withdraw the plea.
The earlier judge applied a “miscarriage of justice” test in her ruling when the broader “interest of justice” test was appropriate, the appeal court declared.
Now the matter will likely go to trial, and will next be mentioned in the NSW Supreme Court on December 1.
Brother of Scott Johnson ‘disappointed’ the case ‘still not settled’
Brother Steve Johnson, who fought for decades to solve his brother’s cold case, lives in the US and flew to Australia for the appeal hearing last month.
He said at the time he was disappointed his brother’s case was “still not settled” despite White essentially “convicting himself”.
“But I can see the importance of what’s taking place in the court this week,” he added.
“Even though it was gruelling, seeing the care that has been taken to be sure that the defendant is well treated, I respected that.
“If it turns out that his guilty plea is overturned, then I’ll live with what follows after that. Even if it’s a trial.”
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