Attorneys for one of three people charged in the murder-for-hire plot that killed Jared Bridegan in Jacksonville Beach want the State Attorney’s Office taken off the case.
Attorneys for Mario Enrique Fernandez Saldana, who is charged with planning the murder, filed a motion saying that evidence shared by prosecutors suggests the office of State Attorney Melissa Nelson has “compromised” the case.
The attorneys object to prosecutors’ use of communications between Saldana and his wife, Shanna Gardner-Fernandez, Bridegan’s former wife, who also is charged. Those communications are protected by attorney-client privilege, the attorneys say.
“This court must disqualify the entire 4th Judicial Circuit from prosecuting the defendant in this case,” the motion states. “The defendant has reason to believe the judicial process has been compromised and that the state’s assurance will not prevent the judicial process from being compromised in the future.”
State Attorney’s Office spokesman David Chapman said prosecutors “will file appropriate objections to the defendant’s motion and is confident it will prevail after full consideration by the court.”
Bridegan, 33, was driving near the exit of The Sanctuary neighborhood on Feb. 16, 2022, with his 2-year-old daughter in a car seat when he stopped to remove a tire from the road, police said. Bridegan was shot multiple times in front of his daughter as he exited his vehicle, police said. Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Gene Smith called it “a planned and targeted ambush and murder.”
Bridegan, an executive with Microsoft, had a long and bitter divorce from Gardner-Fernandez, and law enforcement attention quickly swirled around her and Saldana.
The suspected gunman, Henry Arthur Tenon, 61, pleaded guilty in March to committing the murder and agreed to testify against others. He once lived in a home that Saldana owned. He was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, second-degree murder with a weapon, accessory after the fact to a capital felony and child abuse.
Saldana was arrested in mid-March and charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to commit a felony and child abuse, since Bridegan’s daughter witnessed the shooting, prosecutors said. In mid-August, Bridegan’s former wife was indicted on the same charges.
Saldana and Gardner-Fernandez both remain jailed without bail.
Defense attorneys Jesse Dreicer and Frank Tassone say the State Attorney’s Office is using communications like text messages and emails between Saldana and Gardner as evidence.
Their motion says courts in Florida have consistently disqualified prosecutors if the attorney-client privilege has been violated.
“The court stated: The state has agreed that any communications protected by the attorney-client privilege will be removed from the devices, by a non-state third party, prior to downloading,” it states. “In this way, law enforcement officials will not be able to view the content subject to the attorney-client privilege.”
The motion also asks that the State Attorney’s Office be told to not review Saldana and Gardner’s cellphones until the issue can be taken up by the 5th District Court of Appeals.
The defense attorneys point to their discovery of at least 66 emails they say are protected under attorney-client privileges. Their discovery of a recorded phone call between Gardner and her defense lawyer in Washington State is “especially troubling,” they said
If a decision is made to remove Nelson’s office, the governor could appoint a special prosecutor from a different circuit. Meanwhile, Gardner and Saldana’s next pretrial hearing is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 1.