The family of Los Angeles-born Johnson fought for years to overturn an initial finding that the 27-year-old mathematician had taken his own life in 1988.
White, 52, was arrested in Sydney in 2020 and pleaded not guilty to murdering Johnson, who was a Ph.D. of the Australian National University. student who was living in the capital Canberra when he died.
White surprised his lawyers in January last year when he pleaded guilty to murder during a pre-trial hearing.
About 20 minutes later, White signed a statement saying he was “confused” when he pleaded guilty, that he did not cause Johnson’s death and that he wanted to plead not guilty.
But the judge recorded the guilty plea and White was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison.
In sentencing White, the judge said she had not found beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was a gay hate crime, and would have resulted in a longer prison term. Johnson was openly gay.
In November, three judges from the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Sydney ruled that White should be allowed to overturn his guilty plea, overturning his conviction and sentence.
The judges said there was a question of White’s guilt for murder that could be raised at trial. A trial may result in acquittal or conviction for the lesser crime of manslaughter.
White pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and guilty to manslaughter. Prosecutors earlier agreed with White’s lawyers to accept the plea.
Deputy Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans told reporters outside court that the conviction capped the Johnson family’s long fight for justice, since a coroner ruled in 1989 that his death was a suicide.
“Look, it’s a very emotional day for everyone, especially the Johnson family, who have been through a very traumatic period in the last 34 years and are really protecting that family today, what they’ve done for so many years,” said Yeomans. .
“We are delighted from the police’s point of view, but of course, more importantly for the Johnson family, a very long saga in their lives, some 34 years in the making, comes to an end. , that they have fought for justice, and finally (it) has come to an end today,” he said.
White will be sentenced at a later date.