Lawyers for an Australian who confessed to the murder of a gay American at a known, beachside cruising spot in Sydney in 1988 say their client was gay himself and terrified of his homophobic brother finding out.
The victim, Scott Johnson, 27, was a US citizen who went to Australia to study for his math doctorate and be with his Australian partner, Michael Noone. His body was found at the foot of cliffs at Manly’s North Head Beach, outside Sydney.
Police at the time were quick to dismiss his death as a suicide. However, Scott’s friends and family never believed this to be the case.
The killing went unsolved for over 33 years but his family refused to give up on finding whoever was responsible. Johnson’s brother, Steve, offered an AUS$1million reward for information in 2020 (on top of an AUS$1million already on offer from Australian authorities in 2019).
This led to the arrest of a local man, Scott Phillip White, 51.
Earlier this year, during a pre-trial hearing, White dramatically confessed to the crime.
Related: Murder of gay, math genius finally solved after man admits guilt 34 years later
However, since that time, his lawyers have been trying to withdraw his confession. At a pre-sentencing hearing today, Belinda Rigg SC said White, who was 18 at the time of Johnson’s death, suffers from a “cognitive impairment”.
She also revealed White was gay himself and scared of others finding out. He lived with his brother and alcoholic parents at the time of Johnson’s death.
White’s former wife, Helen, also appeared at today’s hearing. She told the court White often bragged about beating up gay men when younger. She said he even told his six kids about it.
She told the court she twice asked her husband about the killing of Scott Johnson, after the case was brought up in the news.
In 1998, she read about the Johnson case in a newspaper and asked her then-husband about it.
“He replied, ‘oh that girly looking poofter?’ … we then had a bit of an argument,” she said.
“Did you do this?” she asked him. “He said the only good poofter is a dead poofter, to which I said, ‘So you threw him off the cliff’. And he said, ‘It’s not my fault the dumb c*nt ran off the cliff’.”
“It is if you chased him,” his wife replied.
White’s wife eventually tipped off the police. She denied claims from White’s lawyers that she’d made up her statements after reading about the reward money.
Also in court today were members of the Johnson family, who flew into Sydney to give powerful testimony about the beloved brother they lost.
White, dressed in prison greens, looked on from the dock of the NSW Supreme Court.
Johnson’s older sister Terry said her brother Scott “wouldn’t hurt a fly”.
“The hateful person who killed Scott has been walking free on this earth for the past 33 years,” she added. “Thirty-three years that he took away from my baby brother. I believe [White] deserves life in prison.”
Johnson’s other sister, Rebecca, broke down, begging White to let this be the “final chapter.”
“Parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and classmates, authority, culture, somehow Mr White’s world reinforced that violence and even killing was OK and maybe that gay men weren’t human. That is a profound tragedy,” she said.
Related: US man offers $660,000 to find killer of his gay brother in Australia
Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve, talked about the “agonizing grief” the family has endured over the past three decades. He paid tribute to his brother’s math skills, lamenting how he had missed the “golden era for nerds” and the advances enjoyed by so many LGBTQ people across the world.
Steve Johnson said he’d never forget the “wailing cry” his mother made on finding out about her son’s death.
Michael Noone, Johnson’s partner, also have testimony. He talked of the horror of being called by police and how his and Johnson’s dreams of a new life together were cut short.
“No-one can imagine what it was like to be shown his lifeless and very badly damaged body,” he said.
“It’s an indelible image that is burnt into the brain … it’s an excruciatingly grotesque specter that I’ll be taking to my own grave.”
Justice Helen Wilson will hand down White’s sentence tomorrow.
UPDATE May 03, 2022
Justice Helen Wilson handed White a jail sentence of 12 years and seven months. Read our full story: Scott Johnson: Gay, US man’s killer jailed in Sydney for 12 years
No surprise here. How many times have rabidly anti gay bigots been exposed as self hating closet cases?
In the court case about same sex marriage the side against it were using the “Studies” by George Reckers that attacked gay men as their main evidence. Then he was exposed as hiring a male prostitute to travel with him and the case fell apart.
The bigotry of the right wing and evangelicals can really mess up their kids. Glad justice was finally done in this case.
Cam: Did I miss something?
Where did this article say that this fiend was from a right-wing or evangelical family? It seemed like he came from a dysfunctional family headed by alcoholics, which means they could be of the right or the left.
Don’t forget that when Chaz Bono (previously Chastity Bono and a lesbian) came out to his parents, it was his conservative Republican dad, Sonny Bono, who embraced him and it was his left-wing gay icon/mother, Cher, who initially rejected him. Chaz stated this in interviews soon after coming out.
Don’t see how this has much to do with the right wing. While folks can be “Liberal” and still be homophobic or anti-gay. Hell, folks can be gay/queer presenting and still indulge stuff like gay panic, homo inferiority, non-homo superiority, femme-phobia, anti-gay views, etc. And it is true that many aggressively homophobic men are in the queer spectrum, but it’s impossible to know the dimensions of this dude’s sexuality and sexual journey and where he is in the gender, sexual, affection, romantic attachment, emotion, commitment spectrum. Lawyers will push almost any narrative to get their clients off or reduce their sentence.
@BennyTheHill Hi BarryM, SamB, etc….
What a surprise, the right wing, anti-LGBTQ troll account trying to deflect from the fact that right wingers are bigots.
You said…….”Don’t see how this has much to do with the right wing.”
Because three decades ago it was a self hating closet case from a bigoted family that committed the crime. Are you saying that they were sex positive liberals that the guy was terrified to come out to?
There was just no need to go the ranting about the right wing route. And I’m almost as progressive as they come. Sometimes it’s best to avoid attaching a story or tragedy to political parties and identities. Also, that’s not what “sex positive” is. And also, once again, we really don’t know the dimensions of this man’s sexuality and sexual journey, his psyche, the actual motivations of the murder or where he is in the gender, sexual, affection, romantic, emotion, commitment spectrum. All we have is a lawyer’s defense.
There’s a lot of truth to this theory that men who are extremely homophobic are fighting an internal battle with their own homosexuality.
I used to hook up with NYC cop – a former champion boxer – who was married to a woman and had 2 kids. He admitted to me that he was very homophobic as teenager and young man. After much soul-searching, he realized that it was in reaction to his own self-hatred as a gay man.
What is sad is your penchant for making up stories.
What is equally sad is the lack of integrity you clearly demonstrate in knowingly participating in adultery. but of course, integrity is considered a weakness among “libertarians”, as glaring a failure as empathy or altruism!
And there is likely to be more than one source of hatred for homosexuals, as well as more than one possible theory for the source of the empirical data you reference, an experiment that found more tumescence, on average, in self described heterosexual men who claimed to hate homosexuality than in self described heterosexual men who had no dislike of homosexuality. It is just as likely that the gay-haters were aroused by the thought of violence against gays, not by suppressed homosexuality.
There is not enough research in this sort of thing to really be conclusive. (you might ask your mythic boyfriend to look up empiricism).
@Den, i cannot but agree with you. @BTH Copy & Paste Queen makes up the most outrages stories and comments on Queerty. I am no expert but maybe @Bosch can shed some light on what is wrong with this clearly demented individual?
Back on topic. Sad for the loss of clearly a brilliant mind. The loss felt by his family, friends and partner.
This is just another example of this site publishing homophobic content. The claim of homosexuality is made by his lawyer in order to play into the homophobic cultural trope that gay-on-gay violence is responsible for the hatred and violence in Gay men’s lives. This is the lawyer trying to tap into cultural ideas that Gay men are depraved in order to get leniency. This is merely a re-working of the Gay Panic defense of “he came on to me, so I had to kill him” changed into “he came on to me and I’m closeted so I had to kill him”.
Come on Queerty. Do better.
It’s true though. I think that gay men have more to fear from other gay men albeit deeply closeted and effed up by society then straight and secure in their sexuality men.
I think you’re right about the defense though. This is just another variation of the gay panic defense.
It’s not a trope, it’s a valid psychological theory. Not only that, but it’s stellar at preventing homophobia.
Do you know how many men will act homophobic if they know that it’ll expose them?
This kind of defense is related to research done a number of years ago, it is not based on a “homophobic cultural trope,” though the theory drawn from the research is not terribly strong and more research needs to be done.
@Bosch where is the valid psychological theory? Stellar at preventing homophobia? What are you talking about? And is this theory also coming from the people who were locking us up prior to their change of heart in the 1970s while their aversion therapy continues to be used against us in the Southern Baptist churches? These ideas of gay on gay violence as the reason for Gay men’s suffering are homophobic and have no basis in research.
I am happy that justice has been served.
Ha. Looks like the wife made a decision. She saw that reward $ and made a decision. The $ or stay hooked up to that POS.
At the end of the day she knew and did absolutely nothing though. Well, nothing till a million dollars was waved in front of her face. They’re all scum.
Me, personally, don’t think he’s gay one bit. From reading the write up, looks like his defense team is throwing everything they can just to see if it sticks.
Stories like this kill me, i was easy going when i was young not knowing such hate was being churned up, sad that it is some that are in the shamed closet, I cry for the family
As many as 88 gay men were murdered by these groups in the period, with many of the deaths unreported or considered accidents at the time.
Forking horror story.
Horrible labeling — “Victim Scott Johnson” — throughout this article, as if Scott’s only reason to be remembered is his “victimization.” Queerty call it a murder, which it was, and place the person first: “Scott Johnson, murdered in 1988, will finally receive some justice in an Australian courtroom tomorrow ….”
How many times have we heard this story? Shocking, though, at how nonchalant the guy was when admitting it to his wife.
how many times have (closeted) gay men been the perpetrators of some terrible actions against other gays, in particular those that are closeted and part of the legislator processes around the world. Glad the family (especially his brother) persisted with the dismissive suicide declaration by the police force of NSW (Sydney).
Six kids… Sorry, NOT gay. Struggling to find a defense is all.
@Den, no it isn’t related to research done years ago and if it was, is your point that it is outdated or that it is fundamental? You didn’t finish your thought. It’s based on homophobic stories, not research.
Why aren’t the cops being sued for being homophobic themselves? They obviously put no effort into this bc they hated gays themselves.