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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Sydney man sentenced for murder of gay American in 1988

Sydney Man Sentenced For Murder Of Gay American In 1988

by Rod McGuirk | The Associated Press

Canberra, Australia – An Australian man was sentenced on Tuesday to 12 years and seven months in prison for the 1988 murder of an American who fell off a cliff in Sydney, known as a gay meeting place.

Mathematician Scott Johnson’s death was initially said to be a suicide, but his family pressed for further investigation. In 2017 a coroner carried out several attacks, some fatal, where victims were targeted because they were believed to be homosexuals.

Scott White, 51, pleaded guilty in January and could face a life sentence.

Justice Helen Wilson said she did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was a homosexual hate crime, a serious factor that could have led to a longer sentence. She also said that she implemented a more liberal punishment pattern in the state of New South Wales in the late 1980s.

He would have to serve at least eight years and three months in prison before being considered for parole.

White was 18 years old and homeless when he met the 27-year-old Los Angeles-born Johnson at a bar in suburban Manly in December 1988 and accompanied him to a nearby cliff top in North Head.

White’s ex-wife Helen White told police in 2019 that her then-husband bragged about beating gay men and said the only good gay man was a dead gay man.

She told the court on Monday that her husband had said Johnson had run off the cliff. Scott White tells police that he himself is gay and fears his gay brother will find out.

Wilson said it was not possible to draw any conclusions beyond reasonable doubt about what happened at the clifftop.

“The perpetrator hit Dr. Johnson, causing him to stumble backwards and off the edge of the cliff,” Wilson said.

“In those seconds when he would have realized what was happening to him, Dr. Johnson would have been terrified, aware that he would strike the rocks below and conscious of his fate,” Wilson said. “It was a terrible death.”

Wilson did not accept defense attorneys’ contention that Helen White was induced to report to the police with a reward.

Under cross-examination on Monday, Helen White denied she knew of a 1 million Australian dollar ($704,000) reward for information on Johnson’s murder when she went to police in 2019. She said she only came to know about a reward when the victim’s brother, Steve Johnson, doubled the amount in 2020.

Outside the courtroom, Boston resident Steve Johnson thanked prosecutors and the judicial system for ensuring White was sent to prison.

“We didn’t get compensation for Scott this week, but what Scott got was dignity,” the older brother told reporters.

Younger sister Rebecca Johnson said she was satisfied with the sentence.

“Today I think we have the answers and we have got justice, and this is for our brother and this is for gay men who were beaten or killed in that era,” she said.

White had a record of violent crime before and after the murder, but had not committed a crime since 2008.

“It should be understood that the court is not punishing a violent and reckless youth for a targeted attack on a gay man,” Wilson said.

“With the passage of time, the criminal is no longer the same angry young man who raised his fist on the other at the edge of the cliff. Neither is the court awarding punishment for a crime motivated by hatred against a particular section of society. The evidence to support this is very thin,” Wilson said.

She said today a punishment for the same offense would be “much higher”.

White’s lawyers have appealed his conviction and are expected to acquit him of the murder charge at a jury trial.

A coroner ruled in 2017 that Johnson “fell off a cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they believed him to be homosexual.”
The coroner also found that gangs of men were moving in search of gay men to various locations in Sydney, resulting in the deaths of some victims. Some people even robbed.

World Nation News Desk
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