The court also heard that Johnson’s murder was not White’s first encounter with crime — nor his last. As a child, he appeared in court for a number of violent offenses.
He had a troubled and disadvantaged upbringing – including “homophobic parents who drank and encouraged him to fight for their amusement” – which Judge Wilson said set him on a path “that led him at North Head.
White told forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Furst that by the age of 14 he was drinking alcohol and living on the streets, where he was frequently assaulted. He attempted suicide “a few times” around age 15, Furst said.
Years later, as an adult with multiple children of his own, White often bragged about how he used to “bashing,” his ex-wife Helen told court Monday. He used the same phrase when he spoke to the two anonymous witnesses in 2020.
But the court heard he was also gay, something he told the same witnesses was his ‘biggest secret’ due to his family’s homophobia.
In a 2019 police interview, White admitted to fighting as a “street kid” in Manly in the late 1980s, but denied targeting people based on their sexuality. He said he had known he was gay since he was 15 and was anxious, even at the time of the interview, that his brother would not know.
White’s last run-in with police was in 2008 when he assaulted his wife, leading to their separation. Wilson said he “seems to have lived a flawless life since then”, caring for his elderly, alcoholic mother and then living “quietly on his own”.
She said “the offender is no longer the same angry young man who raised his fists at another at the edge of a cliff”.
White’s background – a “prejudicial childhood leading to life on the streets” – along with early childhood deprivation and cognitive impairment, reduced his moral culpability for the crime, Wilson said.
She noted that this was “generously” acknowledged by Johnson’s sister, Becca, who said in her victim impact statement on Monday that the community had “failed” White.
“I don’t want Mr. White to suffer. I want Mr White to be brought to justice for the 33 years, four months and 22 days since he killed my brother,’ she told the court.
Speaking in court on Tuesday, Becca and Steve Johnson were asked how they felt about the court’s failure to find their brother’s death a hate crime, after relentlessly pursuing justice since his death had initially been ruled a suicide.
Becca said she felt their trip shed light on the tragedy – “that someone could hate themselves and hate gay people, gay people, so much that killing them is OK”.
Steve – an IT entrepreneur who in 2020 matched the $1million reward offered by police two years earlier with his own funds – thanked Judge Wilson for the dignity and justice she brought to his brother.
“There’s no way to guess the sentence she gave,” he said. “Twelve years in prison – it could have been life in prison and it didn’t bring Scott back.
“What we got was fairness and dignity for our brother.”
Steve also thanked the killer’s ex-wife, Helen White, “who bravely came forward, sacrificed her safety for this and bravely testified in court yesterday.”
He also had words of gratitude for the killer himself. For finally pleading guilty, and “sparing us, the family, another ordeal”.
White, who was sentenced to a maximum of 12 years and seven months in prison, will be eligible for parole on August 11, 2030.
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