July 16, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Suspect Pleads Guilty to Killing Los Angeles-Born Gay Man in 1988

By Susan Payne

Last month, an Australian man pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1988 death of an American who fell from a clifftop in Sydney. 

Scott White’s guilty admission in the New South Wales state Supreme Court came three months after he had his conviction on charges of murdering Scott Johnson overturned by an appeals court, according to KTLA News. 

The family of Johnson, who was born in Los Angeles, fought to overturn an initial finding that he took his own life on that cliff, known as a gay meeting place. 

Steve Johnson, brother of the man who died, told reporters the moment was emotional, and was able to watch the court hearing online from his home in Boston. 

Last October, police heard White on a prison phone call confess to his niece that he struck his victim at the clifftop, Johnson told The Associated Press. 

“The police work that continued during the appeal and after the appeal to get that one last piece of evidence that brought him to the table … so that we could negotiate this, I’m incredibly thankful,” Johnson told AP. 

White will return to court on June 6 for sentencing. 

“Reading the black and white of his confession, in which he states that he threw the first punch, which I imagine was the only punch and my brother must have been very close to the cliff … makes me pretty angry,” Johnson said.

In 2017, a coroner ruled that Scott Johnson fell from the cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence who attacked him based on his sexuality, and that gangs of men roamed Sydney locations in search of gay men to assault, resulting sometimes in death. 

Violence against gay men in Sydney was particularly prevalent from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s due to increased hostility and fear stemming from the AIDS epidemic, an HIV support group called ACON told the inquiry.

“In fact, many of us believe that it was the police indifference to these killings and bashings of gay men back in the ’80s that helped cause them. The perpetrators always knew they would not get into trouble,” Johnson said.

Steve Johnson offered a $704,000 reward in 2020 for information about his brother’s death, which may have led to White’s conviction. White pleaded not guilty to murder and guilty to manslaughter, according to KTLA.

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