Sitting in the raised public gallery, far back from the quay where White stood, Johnson was overwhelmed by a mixed bag of emotions. Shock. Confusion. But behind it all lay a deep, penetrating sense of relief. That he should not endure the trial of a lawsuit, with all its stress, tension and uncertainty.
On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Helen Wilson refused to give White permission to withdraw his plea, convinced he was sane when he did so, and convicted him of murder, with sentencing likely in May (White’s legal team has indicated that they will appeal this judgment). Justice Wilson also revoked a non-publication order that had prevented media from reporting on the case. “The long journey is finally over,” Johnson reflects.
That journey began with a phone call in December 1988 while Johnson was on vacation in California (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts) with his wife and six-week-old baby, telling him that his younger brother’s body had been found at the bottom of the cliffs at North Head.
“I flew to Canberra, where Scott lived with his partner,” Johnson recalls. ‘And we drove up to Manly police station where we were told the case was already closed. The investigation team consisted of a couple of young constables, not detectives. One said right up to me, ‘This is where people go to jump, especially gays’. Scott had taken his own life, they insisted – a tale the police will stick to for almost three decades.
Steve Johnson never believed that his brother committed suicide, but was in doubt about how to convince the police to investigate the death, and so he moved on with his life. Over the next few years, Johnson made more money than he ever dreamed he would, after selling a world-first algorithm that made it possible to send images over the Internet, something he had previously exchanged ideas with Scott, who completed a Ph.D. in mathematics just before his death.
Then in 2005, Johnson was told that an investigation led by NSW Deputy State Physician Jacqueline Milledge was investigating the deaths of three gay men at Bondi’s cliff tops, driven by an investigation led by Detective Steve Page, whose groundbreaking evidence from Operation Taradale suggested they were gay. hadmord. Milledge made headlines when she described the original police investigations in the late 1980s as “grossly inadequate and shameful”. It was becoming clear that in the eyes of many of the police at the time, homosexual lives did not mean as much as heterosexuals.
Johnson hired an award-winning, ex Newsweek investigative journalist to take a closer look at Scott’s murder. Dan Glick arrived in Sydney on a cloudless day in May 2007, and a few hours after running around North Head and talking to locals, he confirmed that the place where Scott was found was a well-known gay beat.
“I met a man who had been stabbed up there,” Glick says. “I found reports of more than a dozen men who were known gay bashers on the northern beaches around Scott’s death. What I could not figure out, and still can not understand, is why the police at the time pretended they did not know any of this or had any possible connection to Scott’s death. “
After the third investigation, a reward of $ 1 million was offered for information leading to an arrest; in 2020, Steve Johnson matched this by an additional $ 1 million. Then Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told reporters that the Johnson investigation needed a “new set of eyes” and put Detective Peter Yeomans of the Sexual Offenses Unit in charge.
Following a tip, NSW police, led by Yeomans, went to the White’s Lane Cove apartment in May 2020 and arrested him. White pleaded “not guilty” to the murder charge last year before reversing his plea this week. Yeomans has admitted that without the evidence of an informant, spurred on by the $ 2 million reward, the case “could not have been resolved”.
Steve Johnson now hopes the NSW government will not lose his temper over the terms of the forthcoming special NSW investigation into hate crimes for gays and lesbians between 1970 and 2010, giving it the powers of a Royal Commission to investigate the wave of murders, which peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I think [the Scott Johnson case] provides an extraordinary model for solving the murders of other gay men. It proves that these cases can be resolved. “
Asks Dan Glick: “Where is the responsibility for all the past mistakes that individual police officers have made, for the anguish they have committed, not only on Scott Johnson’s family, but for the dozens, if not hundreds of other people who were murdered; , beaten, marginalized and otherwise ignored? ”
Steve Page insists there were many well-meaning and professional police investigators in the 1980s and 90s, but police shortcomings generally need to be investigated by a royal commission.
“One of the best ways to give this study the best chance of success is to give it royal commission powers,” Page said. “There are a lot of family and friends of gay men who want answers, and they do not have access to the private support team that leaned into the Scott Johnson case.”
On Thursday, the Supreme Court gave Steve Johnson permission to view the evidence, which is likely to be suppressed for the media until sentencing. On Friday afternoon, he reviewed a number of documents along with his lawyer and police officers. “I always wanted to know what my brother’s last hours were like,” Johnson reflects.
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