A man has pleaded not guilty to murdering Scott Johnson more than 32 years after his naked body was found at the bottom of cliffs near Manly, on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Scott White has spent more than eight months behind bars after detectives stormed his Lane Cove apartment and arrested him in May 2020.
At the time of Mr White’s arrest, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans said a key informant led police to their suspect.
He said without that person’s evidence, the case, which is one of Sydney’s most long-standing murder mysteries, “couldn’t have been solved”.
The plea has paved the way for a trial, which comes after three coronial inquests into the 27-year-old’s death.
Mr White, 49, is accused meeting Mr Johnson at hotel before the pair walked for more than a kilometre through remote bushland to a gay beat at North Head.
Police allege Mr Johnson removed his clothes before Mr White panicked and punched him, causing him to plunge to his death at Bluefish Point in December 10, 1988.
Mr White was dressed in prison greens when he appeared on the screen at Central Local Court, and his lawyer entered the plea on his behalf.
Detective Chief Inspector Yeomans, who continues leading the investigation, sat in the back of the public gallery during the hearing.
Police allege it was a crime that was motivated by the “absolute” hatred of a gay man, but it took three coronial inquests and decades to find that was the case.
The first inquest found Mr Johnson’s death was the result of suicide, while the second came back “inconclusive” due to a lack of evidence.
However Mr Johnson’s brother Steve, a wealthy technology entrepreneur, always suspected his brother had not killed himself.
In December 2018, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller announced a $1 million reward for information that could solve the case.
It was later doubled to $2 million by Steve Johnson, although it remains unclear whether any of that money has been paid to the informant.
In a video message from San Franscisco, he said “this is a very emotional day, it’s emotional for me and my family”.
Mr White didn’t make an application for bail today and is due to face court again later this year.