They Said His 1988 Death Was Suicide. Now, It's Definitely Not

Australian coroner finds Scott Johnson's death was a hate crime
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2017 11:30 AM CST
Updated Dec 3, 2017 5:00 PM CST
30 Years After He Fell to His Death, a Ruling
Scott Johnson.   (handout)

It's believed that Australia has only twice opened a third coroner's inquest into someone's death: with the infamous case of Azaria Chamberlain, the baby taken by a dingo, and with the 1988 death of a 27-year-old American mathematician. On Thursday, a coroner gave the ruling his brother had been seeking for years: that Scott Johnson's death at the bottom of a Sydney cliff was not an act of suicide but a hate crime. The New York Times quotes the state coroner, Magistrate Michael Barnes, as saying he was "persuaded to the requisite standard Scott Johnson died as a result of a gay hate attack"; he added there was insufficient evidence to establish who killed Johnson, however. Steve Johnson in 2005 learned "there were three other cases of gay men that died at cliff sides that had probably been attacked by marauding teen gangs [and] collapsed" at the news, he said late last year.

His lobbying helped secure a second inquest, which in 2012 overturned the suicide ruling. The Guardian reports that Barnes found Johnson's behavior was free of characteristics often linked with suicide, like mental health or drug issues, and that "naked suicide"—his clothes were left folded atop the North Head cliffs—is "exceptionally rare." Barnes referenced the "inadequacy" of the original investigation, in which investigators "quickly jumped to conclusions" and failed to identify the location where Johnson fell as a known "gay beat," where gay men would meet up. Australia's ABC reports Barnes found many reports of teens and young men assaulting gay men in the area. For Steve Johnson, the case hasn't been put to bed. "The inquest produced many leads toward possible perpetrators," he said, per the Guardian. "Now it's time for a homicide investigation." (Read more on the case here.)

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