Judge rules against man convicted of Scott Johnson’s murder


scott johnson scott white murder steve johnson nsw supreme court
Images: Supplied, 7News

The man who shocked his own lawyers by pleading guilty to murdering gay man Scott Johnson in 1988 is maintaining his innocence but has lost a bid to stop his sentence proceedings next month.

Scott White was charged with Johnson’s murder in 2020. Over three decades earlier, the American mathematician and PhD student’s body was found at the base of cliffs at North Head in Sydney in 1988.

On January 10 this year, White unexpectedly declared he was guilty of the crime during his NSW Supreme Court arraignment.

The 51-year-old’s lawyers then attempted to withdraw the plea, arguing he didn’t stand by it and wasn’t fit to make it.

However Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson rejected that. She ruled White was mentally fit to plead and found “no real question over the integrity of the [guilty] plea.”

The NSW Supreme Court subsequently convicted Scott White of Scott Johnson’s murder.

White’s sentencing hearing is listed for May 2.

Convicted Scott White loses new legal bid in Scott Johnson case

However on Tuesday (April 12), White’s lawyers applied in the NSW Supreme Court to vacate that sentence hearing date as White was now denying responsibility, ABC News reported.

The court heard White now “maintained” his innocence and intended to take the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Justice Wilson acknowledged White had submitted a notice of intention to appeal earlier this year.

However the court heard White hadn’t filed other paperwork, including grounds of appeal or submissions, and the appeal hadn’t proceeded on an “urgent basis” as originally indicated.

Justice Wilson said that the full appeal process could take years to complete.

She told the court she wasn’t prepared to delay White’s sentence proceedings any further, ABC News reported.

“That is not a delay which I think could ever be regarded as in the interests of justice,” she said.

“Particularly not when this matter already has been the subject of decades of delay.”

The court heard Scott Johnson’s brother Steve Johnson and other loved ones have made plans to travel from the United States to watch the sentence proceedings in Sydney. The family have also written victim impact statements.

“To delay the matter, I think, would be bordering on the unconscionable and I’m not prepared to delay it,” Justice Wilson said.

On May 2, Scott White’s sentence hearing is expected to proceed.

Scott Johnson’s death finally ruled a homicide in 2017

Scott Johnson’s death was dismissed by police as a suicide for many years.

But his brother Steve Johnson never accepted that finding. He campaigned for years to get justice to have Scott’s death investigated as a murder.

After a third inquest in 2017, the NSW coroner ruled he was convinced Scott had fallen victim to a gay hate crime.

NSW Police put up a large reward for information on the crime, which Steve Johnson later doubled to $2 million.

It resulted in a stunning breakthrough. Police said a key informant had provided information that led to White’s arrest in the decades-old cold case.

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