Judge: Prosecution stays on Bridegan murder case despite ‘poor judgment’

Posted at 11:28 AM, May 13, 2024

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Court TV) — A Florida judge dealt a blow to the attorneys representing a married couple accused of murdering a software executive, ruling that the prosecution can stay on the case.

Split screen of Shanna Gardner and Mario Saladna entering court in shackles.

Shanna Gardner and Mario Saldana enter pre-trial hearings on April 18 and 19, 2024. (Pool/Court TV)

Mario Fernandez Saldana and his wife, Shanna Gardner, are charged with masterminding a murder-for-hire that killed Microsoft executive Jared Bridegan in 2022. Bridegan was Gardner’s ex-husband, and the two were involved in a contentious custody battle over their two children at the time of his murder.

Represented by different attorneys and appearing at separate hearings, both Saldana and Gardner had fought to have the assigned prosecutor, along with the entire Duval County State Attorney’s office, removed from the case. At a hearing on Monday, Judge London Kite announced her decision to allow the prosecution to stay.

Saldana and Gardner’s attorneys had argued that prosecutors had violated their clients’ attorney-client privilege by accessing documents on their electronic devices, including text messages and what was described as a “timeline.”

Prosecutors were never accused of violating the law, but rather an agreement they had reached before the defendants were indicted. Both sides had agreed to have a third-party taint team review all evidence obtained from seized devices. However, issues with the handling of the review led prosecutors to have access to privileged documents, including the timeline. Judge Kite said that “attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest and most sacred” parts of the legal system, and acknowledged that privilege extended to the timeline, but said she could find no evidence that prosecutors opened the file.

Judge Kite blamed a “hyper-technical approach” to the case for causing the problems, and said that the issue was not misconduct by the prosecution, but rather “poor judgment decisions to engage with officers tasked with taint review.” While Judge Kite declined to remove prosecutors from the case, she did rule that neither the timeline nor text messages seized from the device would be admissible in court.

“What was happening before these issues were brought to court is not acceptable,” Judge Kite said. To prevent future issues, the judge scheduled a case management discovery hearing with both sides and said she would engage her own taint team to review all evidence before the case moves forward.

Both Gardner and Saldana face a potential death sentence if they are convicted.