On Monday, an Australian man admitted to murdering 27-year-old Scott Johnson more than 30 years ago when his body was discovered at the foot of an Australian cliff in a crime that law enforcement initially mistook for a suicide.
Scott White was charged with Johnson's murder in May 2020 and initially pled not guilty. White amended his plea during the pretrial hearing on Monday, in an unexpected turn of events. Johnson's nude body was discovered at the base of the North Head cliff in Sydney on December 8, 1988.
Man convicted for 1988 murder in Australia
At the cliff's edge, his clothes were discovered folded neatly, but his wallet had vanished. Despite the unusual circumstances, his death was declared a suicide by the authorities. White's attorney attempted to get White's guilty plea revoked, claiming that he was not "fit to make the admission."
On Thursday, a Supreme Court judge denied the defense's move and affirmed White's guilty plea, convicting him of murder. Johnson had relocated to Australia with his girlfriend, who was homosexual. He was a mathematician doctorate student at the Australian National University and had applied for permanent residence.
Johnson's family requested a third inquiry in 2017. Johnson was pushed down the cliff by unidentified assailants who attacked him because they feared he was gay, according to State Coroner Michael Barnes. According to the BBC, officials apologized to the Johnson's family in the 1980s for how the matter was probed. Steve Johnson, Johnson's brother, expressed his hope that his brother's case might be utilized as a model for future investigations. White is now in detention and will be sentenced on May 2.
He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to Newsweek. The man accused of murdering Scott Johnso was convicted of murder on Thursday, more than 30 years after his body was discovered at the foot of a Sydney cliff.
Police mistakenly dismissed case
Scott White, 50, made a startling statement earlier this week that allowed the court to condemn him in the 1988 case, putting an end to his brother Steve Johnson's decades-long search for the perpetrators of his brother's killing. When Scott Johnson was slain on December 8, 1988, he was a PhD student at the Australian National University in Canberra. He'd relocated to Australia with his partner and sought for permanent status.
The death was first considered a suicide by Australian authorities when his corpse was discovered in an area frequented by homosexual men. His brother was doubtful, and he demanded that the matter be reopened. Former Australian authorities have said that the police were generally unfriendly to homosexual males at the time and that their deaths were not adequately investigated.
After learning about a 2005 inquest into the deaths of three men from the same time in similar circumstances, Steve Johnson hired an investigative journalist to dig into his brother's case. In 2012, he successfully petitioned for a second inquest, which reversed the suicide verdict and suggested that the matter be reinvestigated by police.
Scott Johnson was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime and jumped from the cliff as a result of real or threatened assault, according to a third inquest in 2017. The Fresh South Wales police launched an inquiry the next year, offering a reward of one million Australian dollars (about $730,000) for new information.
White was charged with Scott Johnson's murder in May 2020. White initially pled not guilty; but at a pretrial hearing on Monday, he got up and stated "firmly and passionately, 'Guilty, I'm guilty, guilty,'" according to Steve Johnson.
The hearing was adjourned. In the following days, White's attorneys contended that their client was suffering from stress and worry, as well as an intellectual disability and that his admission should be reversed. However, the court heard that White had expressed his desire to modify his plea on multiple previous occasions and that he did so in a deliberate and assertive way, according to the judge.
He was found guilty of the murder on Thursday and his sentence hearing is set for May. White was from Sydney, local media reported, and lived alone in a small flat with his dog at the time of his arrest. The cops were anticipated to testify in court that he met Scott Johnson at a motel before heading to the cliff together, as per The New York Times.