Suspects in Jared Bridegan’s murder fight to get prosecution off case

Posted at 3:49 PM, April 19, 2024 and last updated 10:51 AM, April 19, 2024

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Court TV) — A Florida judge will take nearly two weeks to decide whether to disqualify the assigned prosecutor and the entire Duval County State Attorney’s Office from trying a murder case.

Shanna Gardner and Mario Fernandez Saldana appear in court

Shanna Gardner and her husband, Mario Fernandez Saldana, appeared in court together on Dec. 1, 2023. (Court TV)

Mario Saldana and his wife, Shanna Gardner, are accused of killing Gardner’s ex-husband, Microsoft executive Jared Bridegan, in a murder-for-hire plot in 2022. Both Saldana and Gardner face a potential death sentence if they’re convicted of the murder, after their alleged gunman, Henry Tenon, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

While the couple is being charged together, they have requested separate pretrial hearings, and at two hearings this week their attorneys argued that the prosecutor’s office should be disqualified from working on the case after allegedly accessing private communications.

Saldana’s defense argued that there was an agreement in place with the prosecution that a third party would review all of the data collected from the defendants’ emails and phones to ensure that no privileged communication with their attorneys was inadvertently included in evidence with discovery. But Saldana’s attorney, Jesse Dreicer, said in court Thursday that prosecutors were “chomping at the bit” to get into the data and refused to wait, and in doing so got access to a series of documents they never should have seen.

Photo of Jared Bridegan

An undated photo shows Jared Bridegan, who was killed on Feb. 16, 2022. (Jacksonville Police Department)

Prosecutors argue nothing inappropriate was accessed. Part of the argument the defense put forth was that the emails and texts in question had subject lines that included the word “confidential.” Prosecutors argued that there is no “confidentiality” in services like Google or Apple, which comply with subpoenas regularly. At one point Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi argued to the judge, “You can’t send evidence to your lawyer and then claim privilege.”

One of the attorneys representing Saldana took the stand during Thursday’s hearing, and when challenged by the prosecutor about the level of encryption in their email system, responded, “We’ve never had issues with our emails like we’ve had in this case.”

Saldana’s attorneys noted that they plan to file a public records request asking for all email and text message exchanges in the prosecutor’s office related to this case that may have discussed the documents in question.

On Friday, at Gardner’s hearing, her attorneys argued similar points but also argued that similarly privileged marital communications between the couple had been accessed as well.

Prosecutors have accused the couple of having Bridegan murdered amid a custody dispute, and said in documents that Bridegan had emailed Gardner two weeks before his death saying he planned to have one of their children baptized in the Mormon church.