JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Court TV) — A couple charged with arranging the murder of Microsoft executive Jared Bridegan appeared in court on Friday together for the first time.
Mario Fernandez Saldana and his wife, Shanna Gardner, are charged with murder and facing potential death sentences if convicted of murder and conspiracy in Bridegan’s death. Bridegan and Gardner had previously been married and shared custody of two children.
Bridegan was shot and killed after dropping the children off at his ex-wife’s home, just moments after speaking with his current wife on the phone. Henry Tenon pleaded guilty to pulling the trigger that night and has agreed to testify against Saldana.
Prosecutors say that Tenon was a tenant in a property owned by Saldana and that the couple hired him to kill Bridegan because of ongoing custody issues.
Gardner appeared alongside her attorney, Jose Baez, who told the court that he had just received a thumb drive containing discovery documents from the prosecution. Gardner also waived her right to a speedy trial. Questioned by the judge about the decision, she answered “Yes, your Honor” and simply said “no ma’am” when asked if she had been coerced or pressured to make the decision.
Mario Fernandez Saldana then approached the lectern with his attorney. While there was limited discussion about a defense Motion to Disqualify the Duval County Prosecutor’s Office at Friday’s court hearing, there was no formal hearing on the motion. The defense alleges that in executing the search warrants against Saldana’s phone and devices, the state mined and viewed data that included privileged communications between Saldana and his attorneys. Saldana was represented before his arrest. His lawyers had flagged prosecutors that any data recovered from his devices would include privileged communications.
The state agreed it would have a “taint team” remove attorney-client communications to prevent law enforcement from viewing the material and potentially using it against the defendant or defendants. The defense alleges that despite a court order, the government uploaded confidential communications to a cloud-based portal that dozens of people had access to.
Among the confidential items that the defense alleges have been breached include:
- 66 Emails between the defense and client (Saldana) that should have been redacted/removed
- A Word document attachment labeled “Confidential Communication”
- Sealed documents
- A phone call between Shanna Gardner and her Washington attorney
- Email exchanges between Gardner and her attorney Hank Cox
The judge asked the prosecutors and defense to determine whether they would like her to conduct a hearing or whether an independent judge should be brought in to review the documents in question.
The documents in question had all been uploaded to a central server for discovery documents, which has since been shut down. Baez referenced the issue during his part of the appearance, saying that he was prevented from accessing any discovery until receiving the physical drive at the hearing.
Saldana was arrested in March on multiple charges, including first-degree murder and conspiracy, while his wife was arrested at her Washington State home in August. The process to extradite Gardner to Florida took several months, but when she arrived last month, she did so with one of the state’s most famous attorneys by her side. Gardner retained Baez, who famously represented Casey Anthony, to represent her in the case.
Prosecutors have indicated they intend to try the couple together and said that they are pursuing the death penalty for both.
Both are due in court for a pre-trial hearing on Dec. 11.