Sydney man admits pushing gay American off a cliff in 1988

May 1, 2022, 1:26 PM | Updated: May 2, 2022, 1:30 am
Steve Johnson, right, with his sisters, Terry, left, and Rebecca and his wife Rosemarie, second rig...

Steve Johnson, right, with his sisters, Terry, left, and Rebecca and his wife Rosemarie, second right, arrive at the Supreme Court in Sydney, Monday, May 2, 2022, for a sentencing hearing in the murder of Scott Johnson, Steve, Terry and Rebecca's brother. Scott White appeared in the New South Wales state Supreme Court for a sentencing hearing after he pleaded guilty in January to the murder of the Los Angeles-born Canberra resident Scott Johnson, whose death at the base of a North Head cliff was initially dismissed by police as suicide. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A man told police he killed American mathematician Scott Johnson in 1988 by pushing the 27-year-old off a Sydney cliff in what prosecutors describe as a gay hate crime, a court heard on Monday.

Scott White, 51, appeared in the New South Wales state Supreme Court for a sentencing hearing after he pleaded guilty in January to the murder of the Los Angeles-born Canberra resident, whose death at the base of a North Head cliff was initially dismissed by police as suicide.

White will be sentenced by Justice Helen Wilson on Tuesday. He faces a potential sentence of life in prison.

“I pushed a bloke. He went over the edge,” White said in recorded police interview in 2020 that was played in court.

White said in the interview he lied when he had earlier told police that he had tried to grab Johnson and prevent his fatal fall.

A coroner ruled in 2017 that Johnson “fell from the clifftop as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual.”

The coroner also found that gangs of men roamed various Sydney locations in search of gay men to assault, resulting in the deaths of some victims. Some people were also robbed.

A coroner had ruled in 1989 that the openly gay man had taken his own life, while a second coroner in 2012 could not explain how he died.

His Boston-based brother Steve Johnson maintained 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 will likely be collected.

White’s former wife Helen White told the court that her then-husband “bragged” to their children of beating gay men at the clifftop well-known for gay meetups.

Helen White said she read a newspaper report in 2008 about Johnson’s death and asked her husband if he was responsible.

“It’s not my fault,” Scott White allegedly replied. “The dumb (expletive) ran off the cliff.”

“I said, ‘It is if you chased him,'” Helen White told the court. She said her husband did not reply.

Under cross-examination, Helen White denied she had been aware of a AU$1 million reward for information on Johnson’s murder when she reported her former husband to police in 2019. She said she only became aware of a reward when the victim’s 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 vanished.”

“This man (Scott Johnson) who once told me he could never hurt someone even in self-defense died in terror,” the brother added.

Steve Johnson said he appreciated White’s guilty plea.

“If he had turned himself in after his violent action, I would have had a little more sympathy. If he had grasped Scott’s hand and pulled him to safety, I would owe him everlasting gratitude,” the brother said, his voice choked with emotion.

Scott Johnson’s sisters Terry and Rebecca Johnson, his partner Michael Noone and Steve Johnson’s wife Rosemarie Johnson also gave victim impact statements.

Rosemarie Johnson described the initial police failure to investigate Scott Johnson’s death as “indefensible and inhumane.”

Rebecca Johnson, a younger sister, said the police report of suicide “made no sense.”

“How could a community fail so spectacularly that they created boys capable of such horror?” she asked, referring to media reports of gay beatings in Sydney being described as a sport.

Prosecutor Brett Hatfield said the precise details of the murder were not known and that White’s accounts had varied.

White had met Johnson in a nearby bar in suburban Manly and Johnson had stripped naked at the clifftop before he died, Hatfield said. He said the gravity of the murder was significantly elevated because it was motivated by the victim’s sexuality.

White’s lawyer Belinda Rigg said her client was gay and had been concerned that his homophobic brother would find out.

In January, White yelled repeatedly in court during a pre-trial hearing that he was guilty, having previously denied the crime.

His lawyers will appeal that plea in the Court of Criminal Appeals and hope he will be acquitted at trial.

Scott Johnson was a doctoral student at Australian National University and lived in Canberra. He was staying at Noone’s parents’ Sydney home when he died.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - This handout photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service o...
Associated Press

Russia accused of ‘kidnapping’ head of Ukraine nuclear plant

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said Saturday, reigniting long-simmering fears over the plant’s security. The alleged kidnapping on Friday apparently took place shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated his war in Ukraine and pushed it into a new, dangerous […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Indonesian police say 4 dead, 1 missing in Papua attack

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian security forces on Saturday recovered the bodies of four construction workers who were killed in a separatist attack in the restive province of West Papua, police said. The four men were killed late Thursday when gunmen stormed a government road construction project in remote Meyarga village in Bintuni Bay district, […]
1 day ago
FILE - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is welcomed to the stage by Maine Gov. Paul L...
Associated Press

Shying from Trump, ex-Maine Gov. Paul LePage seeks job back

YARMOUTH, Maine (AP) — When then-Maine Gov. Paul LePage endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, he credited himself as a prototype for the insurgent presidential candidate. “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular, so I think I should support him since we are one of the same cloth,” said LePage, whose two terms in […]
1 day ago
A member of the Zion Ahmadiyya Muslim community attends Friday prayer in Zion, Ill., on Friday, Sep...
Associated Press

Two prophets, century-old prayer duel inspire Zion mosque

A holy miracle happened in Zion 115 years ago. Or so millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world believe. The Ahmadis view this small-sized city, 40 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, as a place of special religious significance for their global messianic faith. Their reverence for the community began more […]
1 day ago
A member of the Zion Ahmadiyya Muslim community attends Friday prayer in Zion, Ill., on Friday, Sep...
Associated Press

Two prophets, century-old prayer duel inspire Zion mosque

ZION, Illinois (AP) — A holy miracle happened in Zion 115 years ago. Or so millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world believe. The Ahmadis view this small-sized city, 40 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, as a place of special religious significance for their global messianic faith. Their reverence for […]
1 day ago
FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House i...
Associated Press

Trump at center of Oath Keepers novel defense in Jan. 6 case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The defense team in the Capitol riot trial of the Oath Keepers leader is relying on an unusual strategy with Donald Trump at the center. Lawyers for Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist group, are poised to argue that jurors cannot find him guilty of seditious conspiracy because all the actions he […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Sydney man admits pushing gay American off a cliff in 1988