SYDNEY — An Australian has pleaded guilty to the murder of an American mathematician who fell off a cliff in Sydney in a 1988 anti-gay hate crime that police dismissed as a suicide at the time.
Scott White was charged in 2020 with the murder of 27-year-old Los Angeles resident Scott Johnson, whose naked body was found at the base of North Head bluff on December 8, 1988.
White repeatedly yelled at the court that he was guilty during a pre-trial hearing Monday in Sydney, after previously denying the crime.
A New South Wales Superior Court judge on Thursday accepted the guilty plea and dismissed the objections of White’s lawyers. White is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2nd.
He faces a life sentence.
Police had initially concluded that Johnson, who was a PhD student at the Australian National University and lived in Canberra, had taken his own life. This was despite discovering that his wallet was missing from his clothes, which lay neatly folded near the cliff top.
A 1989 inquest – a court-like procedure following unusual deaths – ruled that the openly gay man had taken his own life, while a second coroner in 2012 could not explain how he died.
Johnson’s family requested a third inquest, and state coroner Michael Barnes ruled in 2017 that Johnson “had fallen off a cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence at the hands of unidentified individuals who attacked him because they believed him to be homosexual.”
Barnes found that gangs of men were roaming various locations in Sydney looking for gay men to attack, resulting in the deaths of some victims. Some people were also robbed.
A new police investigation offered a AU$1 million (US$731,000) reward for information in 2018, and Johnson’s older brother, Boston IT entrepreneur Steve Johnson, doubled that reward offer in 2020.
“I think he deserves what he got to him,” Steve Johnson told reporters outside of court after White pleaded guilty.
“It’s a very sad, tragic thing that he did,” Johnson said.
White was arrested at his Sydney home two months after the reward was doubled. Police said at the time the reward helped her break out and an unnamed informant would be entitled to the reward once White was convicted.