Rick Rycroft / AP
CANBERRA, Australia – A man told police he killed American mathematician Scott Johnson in 1988 by pushing the 27-year-old off a cliff in Sydney in what prosecutors describe as a hate crime for homosexuals, a court heard on Monday.
Scott White, 51, appeared in the New South Wales State Supreme Court for a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty in January to the murder of the Los Angeles-born Canberra resident whose death at the bottom of a North Head cliff was initially rejected by police as suicide.
White will be convicted by Judge Helen Wilson on Tuesday. He risks a potential sentence of life in prison.
“I pushed a guy. He went over the edge,” White said in a recorded 2020 police interview played in court.
White said in the interview that he lied when he had previously told police he had tried to arrest Johnson and prevent his fatal fall.
A forensic pathologist ruled in 2017 that Johnson “fell off the cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified individuals who attacked him because they perceived him as gay.”
The overseer also found that gangs of men roamed various places in Sydney in search of gay men to assault, resulting in the deaths of some victims. Some people were also robbed.
A forensic pathologist had ruled in 1989 that the overtly gay man had taken his own life, while another forensic pathologist in 2012 could not explain how he died.
His Boston-based brother Steve Johnson continued the pressure for further investigation and offered his own reward of 1 million Australian dollars ($ 704,000) for information. White was charged in 2020, and police say the reward is likely to be collected.
White’s ex-wife Helen White told the court that her then-husband “bragged” to their children about beating gay men on the cliff top, known for gay encounters.
Helen White said she read a 2008 newspaper report about Johnson’s death and asked her husband if he was responsible.
“It’s not my fault,” Scott White reportedly replied. “The stupid (pronounced) ran out of the rock.”
“I said, ‘That’s if you were chasing him,'” Helen White told the court. She said her husband did not respond.
During cross-examination, Helen White denied that she had been aware of a $ 1 million reward for information about Johnson’s murder when she reported her ex-husband to police in 2019. She said she only became aware of a reward when the victim brother, Steve Johnson, doubled the sum in 2020.
Steve Johnson said in his victim impact statement that “With a vicious push, Mr. White took Scott and he disappeared.”
“This man (Scott Johnson) who once told me he could never hurt anyone, even in self-defense, died in horror,” the brother added.
Steve Johnson said he appreciated White’s guilty plea.
“If he had turned after his violent act, I would have had a little more sympathy. If he had grabbed Scott’s hand and pulled him to safety, I would owe him eternal gratitude,” said the brother, his voice choking with emotion.
Scott Johnson’s sisters Terry and Rebecca Johnson, his partner Michael Noone and Steve Johnson’s wife Rosemarie Johnson also made statements about the impact of the victim.
Rosemarie Johnson described the police’s initial failure to investigate Scott Johnson’s death as “indefensible and inhuman.”
Rebecca Johnson, a younger sister, said the police report of suicide “did not make sense.”
“How could a society fail so spectacularly that they created boys capable of such horror?” she asked, referring to media reports of homosexuality in Sydney described as a sport.
Prosecutor Brett Hatfield said the exact details of the murder were not known and that White’s accounts had varied.
White had met Johnson at a nearby bar in the suburb of Manly, and Johnson had dressed naked on the cliff top before he died, Hatfield said. He said the seriousness of the murder was markedly heightened because it was motivated by the victim’s sexuality.
White’s attorney Belinda Rigg said her client was gay and had been worried his homophobic brother would find out.
In January, White repeatedly shouted in court during a court hearing that he was guilty as he has previously denied the crime.
His lawyers will appeal this plea to the Court of Criminal Appeals and hope he is acquitted during the trial.
Scott Johnson was a PhD student at the Australian National University and lived in Canberra. He was living in Noone’s parents’ home in Sydney when he died.
Sydney man admits he pushed gay Americans off a cliff in 1988: NPR
Source link Sydney man admits he pushed gay Americans off a cliff in 1988: NPR