Brother of gay Angeleno who fell from Sydney cliff in 1988 says killer deserves no leniency

Steve Johnson, the brother of Scott Johnson, speaks to media outside the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Scott Phillip White, the man who admitted killing American mathematician Scott Johnson by punching him from a cliff top at a gay meeting place in Sydney in 1988 deserves no leniency and should face the longest time in jail, Steve Johnson said. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

(Dan Himbrechts / Associated Press)

Brother of gay Angeleno who fell from Sydney cliff in 1988 says killer deserves no leniency

June 6, 2023

A man who admitted killing a Caltech graduate by punching him at a gay meeting place on a Sydney clifftop in 1988, causing him to fall to his death, deserves no leniency and should receive the lengthiest prison sentence possible, the victims brother said Tuesday.

Scott Phillip White, 52, appeared in the New South Wales state Supreme Court for a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of mathematician Scott Johnson. White had pleaded guilty to murder last year, but changed his mind and had that conviction overturned on appeal.

Johnsons Boston-based older brother, Steve Johnson, said White had lost the familys sympathy by withdrawing his confession to murder.

In a victim impact statement read out to the court, Johnson said he and his wife, Rosemary, had felt some compassion because of [White’s] generous plea. Today I have no sympathy.

Any gratitude the family felt was undone after Whites conviction and jail sentence were overturned on appeal, he told reporters after the hearing.

So I am hoping the judge will give him the stiffest sentence he possibly can, Steve Johnson said.

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Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Whites decision to flee the scene without calling the police had prolonged the familys grief and loss for decades, Johnson said.

He didnt check on Scott. He didnt call for help. He notified no one. He simply let Scott die, Johnson said.

In her own statement, Rosemary Johnson spoke of her sweet, kind and gentle brother-in-law.

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You are loved, you are missed, your life mattered and you have not been forgotten, she said.

In the heat of an argument Dec. 10, 1988, White said he threw a punch at Scott Johnson, 27, causing him to stagger backward and fall to his death over a cliff at North Head, which was known at the time to be a meeting place for gay men.

Los Angeles-born Scott Johnson’s death was initially called a suicide, but his family pressed for further investigation. Almost three decades passed before New South Wales state police began investigating his death as a suspected anti-gay hate crime.

Prosecutor Brett Hatfield conceded that the judge overseeing the new sentence could find insufficient evidence to show that White was motivated to attack Johnson because of Johnsons sexuality. However, Hatfield still sought a higher jail sentence, saying it was an unprovoked attack on a vulnerable individual who was naked in a remote location.

Its a serious example of manslaughter entailing a significant degree of criminality, Hatfield said.

Whites lawyer, Tim Game, urged leniency because of his clients cognitive difficulties at the time of the crime as well as his dysfunctional background.

He had just become an adult, and his life was chaotic and a terrible mess, Game said.

White will be sentenced Thursday. He had been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for murder before that conviction was overturned.