New South Wales

Hate crime killer to be sentenced after guilty plea

A Sydney man has pleaded guilty to the historical murder of US mathematician Scott Johnson.

Scott White was charged in 2020 with the decades-old crime after an unnamed informant assisted police.

Johnson, aged 27, was found dead below North Head cliff on 8 December 1988.

White had previously denied the crime but shouted in court this week during a pre-trial hearing that he was guilty, The Guardian has reported. 

Despite the objections of White’s lawyers, a New South Wales supreme court judge on Thursday accepted his guilty plea.

He will be sentenced on 2 May.

“The police were sure they had the right person, but you’re never sure until you hear those words from the person themselves, and then suddenly I know who killed my brother,” said Steve Johnson.

Police had initially believed that Johnson had died by suicide, which was also the ruling of a 1989 coronial inquest into his death. 

A second inquest in 2010 could not explain the death, and a third inquest in 2017 at his family’s behest ruled that Johnson “fell from the cliff top as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual”.

State coroner Michael Barnes found that homophobic gangs had robbed, assaulted, and sometimes killed men in the area at the time.

Steve Johnson said that White “deserves what he has coming to him”.

The New South Wales Government announced in November that an inquiry would be held into unsolved hate crimes between 1970 and 2010 in the Sydney area.

Committee Chair Shayne Mallard said that at least 88 gay and trans people were murdered in that time, though the true number is likely higher due to underreporting and incorrect reporting. 

Mallard said that the inquiry will the inquiry will “have a lot more power than the police… to get to the bottom of these murders”.

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