Murderer who admitted pushing gay student Scott Johnson off cliff 30 years ago finally jailed

Man who murdered gay student Scott Johnson in 1988 sentenced to 12 years in jail

Scott White has been sentenced to jail for the murder of gay US student Scott Johnson, whose body was found in Sydney, Australia three decades ago.

White, 51, was sentenced on Tuesday (3 May) to a maximum 12 years and seven months in jail for the killing of Johnson, then 27, in 1988, the BBC reports.

Johnson’s death was initially ruled as suicide, however after his family’s tireless campaigning to investigate his death, a 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled that he had likely died as the result of a homophobic hate crime.

Over 30 years later, in 2020, White was arrested at his home in Sydney and charged with murder.

White shocked his own lawyers by pleading guilty to the murder at a pre-trial hearing in January.

On Monday (2 May), the court heard audio from White’s 2020 police confession, in which he said: “I pushed a bloke. He went over the edge.”

Justice Helen Wilson told the court that while she did not find beyond reasonable doubt that the murder was a gay hate crime, White – 18 at the time – had indeed pushed Johnson at the top of North Head cliffs in Sydney before he fell to his death.

Wilson said: “The offender hit Dr Johnson, causing him to stumble backwards and leave the cliff edge.

“In those seconds when he must have realised what was happening to him, Dr Johnson must have been terrified, aware that he would strike the rocks below and conscious of his fate… It was a terrible death.”

According to the Associated Press, White’s ex-wife Helen White told police in 2019 that her former husband had bragged about beating up gay men.

She told the court on Monday (2 May) that White had told her at the time that Johnson ran off of the cliff himself.

Johnson was a maths student who had moved from the US to Sydney to be with his partner Michael Noone in 1986 after they met as students at Cambridge University in the UK.

But tragically, soon before completing his PhD, his body was found at the bottom of cliffs in Sydney. His neatly-folded clothes were discovered on the cliff above Bluefish Point, a well-known cruising spot, by a local fisherman.

Former New South Wales deputy coroner Jacqueline Milledge has said that the student’s killer could have been found sooner if the police had not wrongly ruled his death a suicide.

“If Scott Johnson’s death had been regarded as it should have been, police may have made some connection, they may have seen a pattern,” Milledge said, according to ABC News

“It may have led to a very earlier resolve of the Scott Johnson matter than now, some 30 years later.”

Johnson’s brother Steve said in 2020 that he hoped seeking justice for his brother would also help to put an end to homophobic hate crime.

He said: “We now live in a more tolerant and open society – particularly here and in the United States – where societies enable their LGBT+ communities to be their true selves, live safely and unlock their full potential.

“I wish Scott had been afforded the same opportunity, and every effort I put into helping find his killers is also to acknowledge that bullying and gay hate crime will not be tolerated in our community.”