Sydney man Scott White has admitted to murdering gay man Scott Johnson in 1988, and he has been convicted in the high profile “gay hate” cold case.
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 it was a gay hate crime.
In May 2020, police arrested Scott Phillip White, at his home in Lane Cove, on Sydney’s lower north shore.
Police later charged the man with murder. He initially pleaded not guilty in January 2021.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Thursday afternoon that White made the confession on Monday, shocking his legal team.
During a pre-trial hearing, the murder accused stood and yelled, “Guilty. I am guilty. Guilty.”
However reporting of the confession was suppressed while his lawyer argued he wasn’t fit to make it.
But the judge rejected that bid and White was later convicted of Scott Johnson’s murder. White’s legal team plan to appeal.
Scott Johnson’s brother Steve vindicated after 30 years
After a bungled police investigation, an initial inquest into Scott Johnson’s death in 1988 found the 27-year-old mathematician and PhD student died by suicide.
But his brother Steve Johnson never accepted that finding.
He campaigned for years to have Scott’s death investigated as a murder, despite “vociferous resistance” from NSW Police.
After a third inquest in 2017, the NSW coroner ruled he was convinced the man had fallen victim to a gay hate crime.
Reacting to the conviction, Steve Johnson said on Thursday he was “bewildered to say the least” by his brother’s killer’s surprise confession.
“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 said.
“I’m feeling relief and I am thinking about my brother.”
He said he was “remarkably close” with Scott, who was his “best friend” and a “proud gay man.”
Scott Johnson moved from the US in 1986 on a student visa to be with Australian partner, Michael Noone.
The mathematician split his time between Sydney and Canberra, where he was completing his PhD studies at the Australian National University.
“One of the moments that stuck out to me today is that the judge called him Dr Johnson,” Steve said.
“He was granted his PhD by Australian National University after he died, so no one ever called him that in his life.
“The last conversation we know he had was with his [university] professor. He was putting the finishing touches on his PhD.
“As far as his professor was concerned, my brother could get a job at any university in the world.
“He was a brilliant, gentle, wonderful, man… He was my best friend.”
Hope for other unsolved gay hate crimes after conviction
Steve Johnson said “so many people helped make this happen today, over 30 years.”
He thanked former police commissioner Mick Fuller and the “damn good people” he put on Scott’s cold case.
“I hope this serves as a model for the Royal Commission that’s getting set to begin [in NSW] to investigate the other dozens of deaths of gay men,” he said.
“They also deserve justice and their families deserve answers.
“This should give them extraordinary hope that it’s possible to solve some of these crimes at this distance of time.”
There are numerous other suspected gay hate murders in New South Wales that remain unsolved.
In some of the cases, NSW Police have offered substantial rewards for new information.
Anyone with information on unsolved crimes can contact Crime Stoppers confidentially on 1800 333 000 or online.
In December 2018, NSW Police announced a $1 million reward for information in Scott Johnson’s case. Steve Johnson later doubled the reward to $2 million.
Police have said a key informant provided information that led to White’s arrest in the cold case.
Steve Johnson told the ABC’s Australian Story program in 2020 about his decades-long fight for the truth about his brother’s death.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.