Scott White’s lawyers call for trial in Scott Johnson murder case

scott johnson sydney nsw historical gay hate death australia
Photo: Supplied

The man convicted of the murder of Scott Johnson is hoping to rescind his guilty plea, and instead, 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 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.

White had long denied murdering Johnson, and shocked his lawyers when he said “guilty, I am guilty” at a pre-trial hearing in January.

He later told his lawyers that he only said he was guilty out of fear his wife would come after him.

White also said he was stressed and it was “too much”, having seen the victim’s brother and police in court, according to legal notes read in court on Tuesday.

“They are bad reasons, they’re really bad reasons for pleading guilty and any lawyer acting responsibly would try to do as these lawyers have (and try to reverse the plea),” barrister Tim Game SC told the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.

Game, who began representing White recently, said it was in the interests of justice for the court to allow the cognitively impaired man to withdraw his plea and allow the matter to go to trial.


‘I think it always matters that I’m in the court’

Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve Johnson, travelled from the United States to attend the proceedings in person, ABC reported. 

“I think it always matters that I’m in the court,” he said outside the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal after a two-day hearing.

Steve Johnson said he believed the judges needed to see the importance of the matter to his family, in addition to investigating police who joined him and the legal team working on the appeal.

“I have to say, this time around it was hard,” he said.

“There was a lot of detail in the accused’s circumstances and the information that he had to process in order to make his plea and so I had to relive that again, it was pretty gruelling.”

If the appeal is successful, White is likely to face a trial over Scott Johnson’s murder.

“That is a possibility, I’ve accepted it,” Steve Johnson said.

“I think there’s no way around the fact that I’m disappointed that my brother’s case is still not settled, but I can see the importance of what’s taking place in the court this week.”

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Sarah Davison
Sarah Davison

After working in print and radio, Sarah has joined the team at QNews to expand their coverage into South Australia. Sarah has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Journalism, Media, and Communications. Get in touch:

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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