Andrew Parsons says he can't say much on Jonathan Henoche homicide

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says there isn't much he can say about the death of Jonathan Henoche, who was killed at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in what the chief medical examiner has ruled a homicide.

CBC News has learned some correctional officers have been suspended

Andrew Parsons says he can't say much about Jonathan Henoche's jailhouse death being investigated as a homicide. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister says there isn't much he can say about the death of Jonathan Henoche at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, which was ruled a homicide by the chief medical examiner.

The lawyer for the Labrador man — who died Nov. 6 while in custody in St. John's awaiting his first-degree murder trial — says Andrew Parsons should stay silent.

That request seems to be mostly fulfilled: Parsons started his media statement at 10:30 Thursday morning by telling reporters it would "be an extremely frustrating press conference."

He wouldn't comment on whether the correctional officer or officers involved are still working, adding he couldn't say much because he did not want to risk jeopardizing the investigation.

The provincial government has refused to say how many guards were involved, or what their employment status is during the investigation. Representatives for the Department of Justice say it is a human resources issue and will remain private.

However, CBC News has learned some correctional officers have been suspended.

Asked why police can say when an officer is off duty or suspended due to an incident, but the Department of Justice does not, Parsons said it's not the same situation.

"They don't take operational or communications advice from us," Parsons said.

Bob Buckingham was representing Henoche throughout the court process. He continues to advocate for him after his death at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. (CBC)

"The reality is that within government it is our policy, especially as the attorney general, not to comment on an ongoing investigation. I don't want to say anything or do anything that could influence [the investigation]."

However, he said, he chose to speak to the media because the public would have questions it if he hadn't spoken publicly.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says its major crimes unit is investigating Henoche's sudden death. The province's chief medical examiner has ruled Henoche's death was a homicide.

"The conclusion is not as important as the findings of the injuries to his body," said Henoche's lawyer, Bob Buckingham.

Henoche was charged with second-degree murder in Regula Schule's death. The charge was later upgraded to first-degree murder. (Facebook)

"That's going to be important, in addition to that surveillance by the internal security system at the penitentiary. And let's hope that has remained intact and has no gaps in it."

Buckingham said Parsons should not be in the spotlight right now.

"I think Minister Parsons should stay out of this and let the investigation unfold," he said. 

"There should not be even a whiff of political interference. He should refrain from comment at this juncture other than to say the criminal investigation will take place."

Sources have told CBC News that Henoche died after an altercation with correctional officers, and that he was taken from his cell to segregation. 

Henoche, 33, was in the St. John's jail awaiting trial for first-degree murder in the death of Regula Schule, 88. He had been moved to HMP from Labrador for his own safety. 

Buckingham said his client suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, and that he was looking forward to his trial and moving on with his life.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Bailey White and Ariana Kelland