Amer­i­can’s fa­tal fall off Syd­ney cliff ruled gay hate crime

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

AL­MOST three decades af­ter the naked body of an Amer­i­can math­e­ma­ti­cian was found at the base of a Syd­ney cliff, a judge ruled Thurs­day that he was the vic­tim of a gay hate crime.

It was the third coro­nial in­quest — a court-like pro­ceed­ing held af­ter unusual deaths — to in­ves­ti­gate the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing Scott John­son’s fa­tal fall at North Head on De­cem­ber 8, 1988.

The first coro­ner ruled in 1989 that the 27-year-old had taken his own life, while a sec­ond coro­ner in 2012 could not ex­plain how the Los An­ge­les-born openly gay man fell.

State Coro­ner Michael Barnes ruled Thurs­day that John­son “fell from the cliff top as a re­sult of ac­tual or threat­ened vi­o­lence by uniden­ti­fied per­sons who at­tacked him be­cause they per­ceived him to be ho­mo­sex­ual.”

John’s brother, Bos­ton IT en­tre­pre­neur Steve John­son, at­tended the Syd­ney court to hear the ver­dict. He now wants police to bring his brother’s killers to jus­tice.

“We know now that Scott was killed and not only that, it was likely a gay hate gang that met him at North Head,” the 58-year-old older brother told re­porters. “The in­quest pro­duced many leads to­ward pos­si­ble per­pe­tra­tors that should still be pur­sued.”

Barnes said the John­son fam­ily’s com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing the cir­cum­stances of the tragedy were “ex­haus­tively ex­am­ined is laud­able.”

The first in­quest con­cluded within three months of John­son’s death did not hear ev­i­dence that the area was a renowned gay beat — a pub­lic place where gay men met for sex. The fam­ily had the case re­opened af­ter an in­quest found in 2005 that three young men who had died in cliff falls near Syd­ney’s Bondi Beach in the 1980s had been at­tacked by youths who sys­tem­at­i­cally as­saulted gay men.

Barnes heard the ev­i­dence of 10 men who were con­victed or sus­pected of gay hate crimes in Syd­ney in the 1980s. All de­nied in­volve­ment in John­son’s death.

Barnes found that gangs of men roamed var­i­ous Syd­ney lo­ca­tions in search of gay men to as­sault, re­sult­ing in the deaths of some vic­tims. Some vic­tims were also robbed.

John­son’s cloth­ing was found neatly folded at the top of the cliff, but his wal­let was never re­cov­ered.

Sol­diers based in an army bar­racks a short walk from the gay beat where John­son died also en­gaged in gay hate as­saults, Barnes said.

“I am per­suaded to the req­ui­site stan­dard that Scott died as a re­sult of a gay hate at­tack,” Barnes said. “There is how­ever in­suf­fi­cient re­li­able ev­i­dence to iden­tify the per­pe­tra­tors.”

The coro­ner de­clined the fam­ily’s sug­ges­tion to rec­om­mend fur­ther crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But Barnes he said he was con­fi­dent police would pur­sue any promis­ing new leads.

Scott John­son was a PH.D. in math­e­mat­ics can­di­date at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity who shared his time be­tween Syd­ney and the na­tional cap­i­tal, Canberra. He had a stu­dent visa but had ap­plied for Aus­tralian per­ma­nent res­i­dency on the ba­sis of his re­la­tion­ship with his Aus­tralian mu­si­cian boyfriend, Michael Noone, who now lives in Bos­ton. – AP

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