Man jailed for pushing gay student Scott Johnson to his death from Sydney cruising spot

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

A man who admitted to killing gay US student Scott Johnson in Sydney three decades ago has been sentenced to jail for a second time. 

Scott White, 51, was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2022 after pleading guilty to the 1988 murder of gay American mathematician Johnson, then 27, in Sydney, Australia. 

Shortly after pleading guilty, White’s conviction was overturned when he signed a statement seeking to withdraw the guilty plea, meaning the case had to go for a retrial. 

On Thursday (8 June), White was sentenced to jail for a second time, with a judge at the New South Wales Supreme Court sentencing him to nine years in prison, six years without parole for manslaughter, stating that White had “left Dr Johnson to die”, the BBC reported.

Justice Robert Beech-Jones added that Johnson “had everything to live for”.

After the body of maths student Johnson was found in at the base of cliffs in Sydney three decades ago, his death was initially ruled a suicide. However, after his family’s tireless campaigning, a 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled that he had likely died as the result of a homophobic hate crime.

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White, who was 18 at the time of the killing, admitted to punching Johnson during an argument, sending the student over a cliff to his death.

The judge ruled, however, that he could not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the killing was a gay hate crime.

Speaking outside the court, Johnson’s brother Steve explained that the sentence had finally brought his family some closure, saying: “[It] means that this is over … we’re one of the lucky families that has a killer behind bars.”

He previously said it was “inconceivable to me that Scott went somewhere and jumped off a cliff”, after campaigning for his death to be reinvestigated.

New South Wales police previously apologised to Johnson’s family for not investigating the case fully in the 1980s, an era that was marked by violence towards the LGBTQ+ community in Sydney. 

After a committee of lawmakers claimed New South Wales police had failed to investigate suspected cases of LGBTQ+ hate crimes during the 1980s, an inquiry into suspected homophobic hate crimes was opened in 2022, with 20 to 30 unsolved cases from the era believed to have been motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ hatred. 

Former New South Wales deputy coroner Jacqueline Milledge previously explained that Johnson’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.

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

Anyone who has witnessed or experienced a hate crime is urged to call the police on 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the True Vision website. In an emergency, always dial 999.