Suspect in Jared Bridegan’s murder wants prosecutors disqualified

Posted at 9:18 AM, December 11, 2023

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Court TV) — A motions hearing for one of the suspects in the murder of a Microsoft executive has been delayed until Feb. 2, 2024.

Mario Fernandez Saldana, who faces a potential death sentence in the murder-for-hire plot that, has asked a judge to remove the prosecutors from his case. Another issue that the motions hearing will take up is issue is an allegation from the defense that the state was exposed to communications that were private.

Mario Fernandez Saldana

Mario Fernandez Saldana is accused in the murder of Jared Bridegan (Orange County Jail)

Saldana was indicted in March on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to commit a capital felony and child abuse for the shooting death of Jared Bridegan. Bridegan was shot and killed on a quiet road in Jacksonville after dropping his two older children off at the home of his ex-wife and Saldana.

Saldana and his wife, Shanna Gardner, who was previously married to the victim, both face the death penalty if convicted. Gardner was recently extradited from Washington and has retained prominent attorney Jose Baez to represent her.

WATCH: Video Shows Mario Fernandez-Saldana’s Arrest for Jared Bridegan’s Murder

In a motion filed on Wednesday, Saldana’s attorney, Jesse Dreicer, has asked for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Office of the State Attorney to be disqualified from the case after they allegedly inappropriately accessed privileged information from their client’s phone.

Saldana’s attorney alleges that when officers served a search warrant for his phone on Feb. 6, 2023, they inappropriately accessed messages between Saldana and Gardner as well as messages between Saldana and his attorneys. Communications between married couples are protected by spousal privilege, and communications between attorneys and their clients are likewise protected by privilege.

At a hearing on Feb. 17, after the defense had raised concerns about protected messages that might be on the seized devices, prosecutors acknowledged the privilege and said that a “taint team was being assembled and that all privileged communications would be redacted before providing the remaining data to the State.”

jared bridegan murder

Jared Bridegan, right, was gunned down Feb. 16, 2022, after taking his two older children to the home of his ex-wife, Shanna Gardner-Fernandez, in Jacksonville, Fla. Gardner-Fernandez, left, is accused of plotting the murder with her second husband and an alleged hitman.

But Saldana’s attorneys said they became suspicious on Sept. 27 when during a conversation with prosecutors at the courthouse, Dreicer believed the prosecutor referenced privileged information.

“Specifically, the assigned ASA told undersigned counsel she found incriminating evidence against the Defendant, and that this evidence consisted of a Word document titled ‘Confidential Communications.'”

Dreicer said in the motion that he had previously advised his client to title all emails to his attorney “Confidential Communications.”

When the defense asked the prosecutors for the file in question as part of discovery, the prosecution deferred, saying that “investigators are still processing the Google return in order to de-taint and analyze the evidence. This document was flagged for review by the State ahead of the entire exhibit being ready. Will be provided upon receipt by the State.”

The motion says that when the defense finally gained access to the discovery on Oct. 20, they found it included a number of emails between the defendant and his attorneys, many of which, if not all, had the subject line “Confidential Information.” Attorneys said they also found a recorded phone call between Gardner and her defense counsel in Washington.

Saldana’s attorneys have asked that the assigned prosecutor and the entire Duval County State Attorney’s Office be disqualified from pursuing the case.