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An Australian man accused in the unsolved murder of an American mathematician who died after plunging off a Sydney-area cliff more than three decades ago was convicted of the American's murder this week.
Scott White, 50, was found guilty in Scott Johnson’s 1988 killing on Thursday, after making a surprise admission in court, according to reports. White had previously pleaded not guilty in the suspected hate crime killing.
On Monday, White repeated multiple times that he was guilty in front of Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson. He reportedly stood and stated, “Guilty, I’m guilty, guilty,’” according to Johnson’s family in attendance at the hearing, the New York Times reported.
The stunning confession shocked courtroom onlookers, Johnson’s family and White’s own defense counsel, who attempted to strike from his comments from the record.
“No one was prepared for that, including me,” Scott Johnson’s brother, Steve Johnson, told the newspaper by telephone following the startling admission.
White’s confession was ultimately accepted by the presiding Supreme Court judge.
The sudden development was welcomed by Johnson’s family, who said they’re relieved they don’t have to relive the anguish of his death through a lengthy trial.
“It’s over, finally,” Steve Johnson, his brother, told the New York Times in a telephone interview. “This 33-year odyssey has come to a conclusion.”
On Dec. 8, 1988, Scott Johnson’s body was found beneath a North Head cliff in the Sydney suburb of Manly. The 27-year-old’s death was initially ruled a suicide by authorities.
However, his family almost immediately cast doubt on the police narrative — and for years pushed Australian investigators to open a renewed probe into the gay man’s death.
At the time of his death, Scott Johnson was a doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra. He had previously applied for permanent residency in Australia, where he’d moved to be with his partner.
Johnson’s family had previously offered up approximately $647,000 in Australian currency for information leading to the arrest of the killer.
White was charged in Johnson’s murder in 2020 after an informant named him in the case, according to Australia's ABC News.
“The police were sure they had the right person but you’re never sure until you hear those words from the person themselves, and then suddenly I know who killed my brother,” Scott Johnson also told Australia’s ABC radio.
Australian officials are currently re-examining 88 murders of gay men between 1970 and 2000 to conclude whether they may have been anti-gay hate crimes, according to a 2021 Australian government report. Dozens of those cases remain unsolved.
Johnson’s family is now hoping White’s conviction could help the families of other gay men whose murders have gone unsolved over the years in Australia
“They now have a model to follow,” Steve Johnson added. “They now have some hope that you can solve a 30-year-old case,” he said. “I feel like my brother would be really proud.”
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