The brother of an American mathematician found at the bottom of cliffs at Manly in 1988 says he’s disappointed with a decision quashing the conviction of the accused killer.

Scott Phillip White had long denied murdering Scott Johnson, only to say “guilty, I am guilty” during a pre-trial hearing in Sydney in January.

He later told his lawyers “I didn’t do it but I’m saying I’m doing it … it’s the only way, she’s going to come after me” – referring to his former wife.

White also pointed to stress including seeing the victim’s brother, Steve Johnson, and police in court.

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The New South Wales court of criminal appeal on Friday found the supreme court judge had erred for legal reasons in refusing to allow White to withdraw the plea.

The primary judge used a “miscarriage of justice” test when the “interest of justice” test, which is broader, was appropriate, the appeal court ruled.

His conviction and subsequent jail term was set aside.

The matter was remitted to the supreme court arraignment list on 1 December for plea and possible trial directions.

His guilty plea – and whether it was in the interests of justice to permit him to reverse it – was the subject of the two-day hearing in the NSW court of criminal appeal in October.

Steve Johnson said his family was shaken by the decision.

“Certainly, my family and I are all incredibly disappointed – crestfallen – that we haven’t found justice for my brother yet after 34 years. We were hoping that we’d all be able to rest after today,” he said.

“But we respect this process. I know even my brother Scott would appreciate the care that is being taken.”

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