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Guilty plea to murder 33 years after gay hate crime ‘bewilders’ Scott Johnson’s family

The brother of an American man pushed off a cliff in a gay hate crime in Sydney 33 years ago says he is “bewildered” his killer has pleaded guilty.

Scott Phillip White, 50, pleaded guilty on Monday to the murder of American Scott Johnson in 1988, saying “Guilty, I’m Guilty” over the top of the Supreme Court officer reading out the charge.White had previously denied the crime.

For the first time the plea can be revealed.

Scott’s brother Steve said he felt “bewildered” White had surprised everyone, including his own lawyers, by changing his plea to guilty.

“One of the most touching moments of today is that the judge called him Dr Johnson,” he told Sky News.

“He was granted his PhD posthumously by Australian National University. So no one ever called him that in his life, and he was a brilliant, gentle, wonderful, man.

“He and I shared mountain climbing together and computer programming together and all of our school work together.

“We were really, really close and he was just a wonderful modest, young man who would have been celebrating a 60th birthday last month and instead he died at 27.”

Steve said the trip to Australia was harder than most trips he had done Down Under due to the pandemic.

“I felt like it was coming over with my brother, because I would be hearing for the first time evidence about his last hours alive,” he said.

When questioned why he changed his plea to not guilty, White said he did so despite not killing the man because he “wanted to put the matter to rest” for Mr Johnson and his family, but added it was not a “split (second) decision”.

His legal team applied to Justice Helen Wilson to withdraw the plea, arguing he did not stand by it.

However, Justice Wilson refused that application and convicted Mr White for the murder Mr Johnson.

The naked body of Mr Johnson, 27, was found on rocks at the bottom of Manly’s North Head, then known as a gay cruising spot.

Despite investigations, it took 32 years before someone was charged – Mr White – over Mr Johnson’s death.

Mr White was set to confirm his not guilty pleas on Monday ahead of standing trial this year, but pleaded guilty instead.

He’ll be sentenced on May 2.

Police announced a $1 million reward for information to solve the case in December 2018, which doubled to $2 million in March 2020.

Mr Johnson’s brother, Steve, had put up the extra $1 million.

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