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Justice For Scott Johnson – Murder Brought To A Close Decades After The Crime

SCOTT JOHNSON (COURTESY OF THE JOHNSON FAMILY)

Three decades, three coronial inquests and several appeals later, the investigation into the death of American mathematician Scott Johnson has concluded. The case, which stretches back to 1988, is one of the most high-profile investigations into an alleged hate crime in New South Wales and today Scott Phillip White was sentenced to prison time for committing the crime, reports SBS News.

THE WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND WHY OF IT ALL

In December 1988, Michael Noone received a call from NSW authorities requesting that he identify the body of his then-partner Scott Johnson. The 27-year-old mathematician had lived with Noone in the US and the UK before settling in Sydney to start a life together, reports ABC News.

The case remained unsolved for years with investigators labelling the death a suicide. Dr Johnson’s family were never satisfied with that conclusion. His brother, Steve Johnson has spent decades campaigning for justice and offering compensatory incentives for information about his brother’s death, which he always suspected was a murder. Rebecca and Terry Johnson have had to live with the grief of their brother’s passing and will live with that grief for the rest of their lives.

The events that lead to Scott’s death began on the night of December 10, 1988. Johnson met a then 18-year-old Scott White at a Manly hotel before leaving with him to go to a bushland area in Bluefish Point, known for being a gay hangout spot.

Exactly what followed is not known, but the tragic result was the discovery of Johnson’s naked body at the bottom of a cliff. Steve Johnson recalls the pain and trauma of the years that followed; he recalls his panic attacks whenever he was reminded of his brother and the haunting sound of his mother’s wails when she learnt she lost her son. Michael Noone believes he will always have the mental image of his partner’s lifeless body scarred into his mind, reports ABC News.

THE INVESTIGATION

The tenacity of the Johnson family led to three coronial inquests occurring in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Before the last coroner’s results, the case was being put forth for reinvestigation but was only picked up after the 2017 inquest found Johnson died of a hate-crime.

In March 2020, NSW police offered a million dollar reward for information about the case and the Johnson family pledged to match the offer.

Turning to Scott White, now 51, he has lived the past 33 years as a free man. In May 2020, White was arrested for the murder after an informant wrote an anonymous letter detailing White’s involvement in the crime, reports ABC News.

The damning letter turns out to have originated from Helen White, the ex-wife of Scott White. Ms White told the court on Monday, May 2 that her ex-husband would brag about bashing gay men in his youth, reports ABC News.

In 2008 when Scott Johnson’s case was circulating in newspapers, Helen White asked Scott White whether he had anything to do with the death of Scott Johnson and he allegedly said, “The only good poofter is a dead poofter… It’s not my fault the dumb c**t ran off the cliff.”

In court, the Johnson family had an opportunity to read victim’s impact statements. “No-one can imagine what it was like to be shown his lifeless and very badly damaged body,” says Noone. “It’s an indelible image that is burnt into the brain… It’s an excruciatingly grotesque spectre that I’ll be taking to my own grave.”

According to ABC News, Terry Johnson addressed White directly asking him why he would want to harm her brother. She says, “This hateful person who killed Scott has been walking free on this earth for the past 33 years,” and she implored White to let their family have closure.

After his initial arrest, White reportedly admitted to the crime in the NSW Supreme Court saying, “Guilty… I am guilty, guilty!” Although White’s legal team has made attempts at repealing the plea, on Tuesday, May 3, Justice Helen Wilson sentenced White to more than 12 years prison, reports SBS News.

The 1988 cold case has finally come to a conclusion. The Johnson family will never forget their loss, but with this conviction and sentence they may be able to move forward. “I got to tell [White] what my brother was like. I got to tell him how it felt to hear that he was dead… I have to think it sunk in. He watched and listened,” says Steve Johnson.

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