Woman accused in murder-for-hire plot expected to plead not guilty in death of ex-husband Jared Bridegan

A former Jacksonville Beach woman accused of hiring a hitman to kill her ex-husband, Jared Bridegan, will appear in Duval County court Friday with her new, high-profile attorney.

Jose Baez, who also represented Orlando mother Casey Anthony and NFL player Aaron Hernandez in their trials, officially announced on Wednesday that he was taking Shanna Gardner’s case.

Gardner is expected to plead not guilty Friday at her arraignment, which was delayed for months as she fought her extradition from Washington state after her arrest in August.

The 36-year-old and her current husband, 34-year-old Mario Fernandez, are facing charges of first-degree murder, solicitation to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and child abuse in connection with Bridegan’s ambush killing in February 2022.

Fernandez pleaded not guilty to the charges against him when he was arraigned in July.

Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for both Gardner and Fernandez if they are convicted.

Prosecutors say phone and bank records show Fernandez hired his former tenant, Henry Tenon, to shoot Bridegan, and Tenon has admitted to pulling the trigger. He agreed to testify against the couple.

The high-profile attorney who’s now representing Gardner is demanding all the state’s evidence in the case in one of his first court filings.

MORE: Ex-wife of Jared Bridegan indicted on first-degree murder charge in conspiracy that led to ambush shooting

Baez requested the names of everyone relevant to the case, any written or recorded statements, DNA evidence, and details of a plea agreement the prosecution made with Tenon.

Prosecutors say Gardner played a “key and central role” in the conspiracy to kill Bridegan, a father of four who was shot several times at close range on a dark, wooded stretch of road around 8 p.m. Feb. 16, 2022. He had gotten out of his SUV to move a tire blocking the road near the Sanctuary neighborhood in south Jacksonville Beach.

Bridegan’s then-2-year-old-year-old daughter was in the backseat of his SUV when he was shot. The toddler was not injured, but her presence prompted felony child abuse charges against the suspects.

Gardner moved to her parents’ property in West Richland, Washington, months after the murder with the two children she shared with Bridegan.

Attorney Curtis Fallgatter, who is not associated with the case, said while Baez’s legal strategy isn’t crystal clear, he expects Baez to argue Gardner was unaware of the murder-for-hire plot.

“If I’m Mrs. Gardner, what I’m going to say is, ‘Well, I never talked to Tenon. I never knew who the guy was. Fernandez did that totally without my knowledge. I’m so embarrassed. I loved my ex-husband…I would never want the father of my child to be killed,’” Fallgatter said.

MORE: Shanna Gardner plotted to kill Jared Bridegan as far back as May 2015: indictment

Fallgater said that defense strategy might work with regard to Tenon, but he said it will be a far tougher defense if Fernandez decides to cooperate with the prosecution. Fernandez and Gardner married in 2018, after Gardner’s bitter divorce from Bridegan. Her indictment accused her of first plotting to kill Bridegan in 2015.

Fallgater expects the prosecution to pit Gardner and Fernandez against each other.

“It’s absolutely a given that the prosecution is going to try to attempt to get Fernandez to resolve his case so they have a second witness in the prosecution of Gardner,” he said.

Authorities said they have phone records to prove Tenon and Fernandez conspired in Bridegan’s murder, and payments in the form of checks from Fernandez to Tenon. What remains unclear is what evidence prosecutors have connecting Gardner directly to the murder-for-hire plot. Fallgater said even without evidence from discovery, Gardner’s attorney is already starting to build her defense.

“You can formulate some of your defense before you get all the state evidence, but it’s a mistake to finalize the defense strategies until you know what the evidence is. You’ve got to make sure that your strategy is consistent with the evidence,” Fallgatter said.

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