Politics

Man who pleaded guilty to murdering Scott Johnson now maintains innocence


Scott White was arrested in May last year.
Scott White was arrested in May last year.

The man who sensationally pleaded guilty to the 1988 murder of Scott Johnson has lost a last-ditch attempt to avoid sentence proceedings but maintains he is innocent, a court has heard.

Scott Phillip White earlier this year pleaded guilty to the murder of the American mathematician after previously denying responsibility.

“Guilty. I’m guilty. Guilty”, White said during his Supreme Court arraignment, shocking his legal team.

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White’s legal team applied to withdraw the guilty plea, arguing he did not stand by it.

Scott Johnson was killed in 1988.
Scott Johnson was killed in 1988.

But Justice Helen Wilson refused that application and convicted White of the murder of the 27-year-old, whose body was found on the rocks at the bottom of Manly’s North Head, which was then known as a gay cruising spot.

White told his legal team he pleaded guilty because “wanted to put the matter to rest” for Mr Johnson and his family and added it was not a “split (second) decision”, the court previously heard.

Judge Wilson told the court at the time it was clear White had “decided for himself, having thought about it over an extended period, that he wished to plead guilty”.

White is due to face a sentence hearing in early May, when submission will be made about his prospective sentence.

Scott Phillip White pleaded guilty to murdering American mathematician Scott Johnson. Picture: Jeremy Piper / NCA NewsWire.
Scott Phillip White pleaded guilty to murdering American mathematician Scott Johnson. Picture: Jeremy Piper / NCA NewsWire.

The court heard on Tuesday that family members – including Mr Johnson’s brother Steve Johnson, who has campaigned for years for justice – had made plans to travel from the United States to Sydney at a cost of $20,000 to attend White’s sentence proceedings.

The court also heard White’s former wife was due to give evidence.

However, White’s legal team on Tuesday made an application in the Supreme Court for the sentence hearing to be vacated, saying he was now denying responsibility.

The court heard he now “maintained” he was innocent and intended to take his case to the Court of Criminal Appeal to overturn his conviction.

Prominent barrister Phillip Boulten is set to act for White during his Court of Appeal proceedings.

Steve Johnson, the brother of murdered American mathematician Scott Johnson, will travel to Australia for White’s sentence proceedings. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper.
Steve Johnson, the brother of murdered American mathematician Scott Johnson, will travel to Australia for White’s sentence proceedings. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper.
NSW Police search an area on North Head looking for evidence near where Scott Johnson was found dead. Picture: Toby Zerna
NSW Police search an area on North Head looking for evidence near where Scott Johnson was found dead. Picture: Toby Zerna

White’s barrister Belinda Rigg argued the sentence proceedings would be futile given an appeal is on foot.

However, Justice Wilson noted he had yet to file other paperwork with regard to his appeal, including grounds or submissions.

She said that appeal proceedings could take years to complete and given the murder had occurred decades ago, she was not prepared to delay sentence proceedings any further.

“To delay the matter, I think, would be bordering on the unconscionable and I’m not prepared to delay it,” Justice Wilson said.

White will face a sentence hearing on May 2 and then will be sentenced at a later date.

Sydney

Steve Zemek began his career in his native Queensland before moving to Sydney with Australian Associated Press in 2014. He worked as an NRL journalist for five seasons, covering the game all over Australia and … Read more

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