Estranged couple accused in Jared Bridegan murder-for-hire plot back in court Wednesday

Shanna Gardner and her estranged husband, Mario Fernandez, will be back inside a Duval County courtroom on Wednesday as they face charges in the murder-for-hire plot that investigators say left Gardner’s ex-husband, Jared Bridegan, dead.

RELATED: How investigators quickly keyed in on Jared Bridegan’s ex-wife, her husband following ambush murder in Jax Beach

Next week will mark two years since Bridegan, a 33-year-old father of four, was shot and killed while removing a tire that was blocking the road. Investigators say it was part of an ambush by a hired gunman.

Fernandez’s former tenant, Henry Tenon, has pleaded guilty to pulling the trigger and has agreed to testify against Gardner and Fernandez, who investigators say orchestrated the murder plot.

Although they are being tried together, Gardner and Fernandez have separate attorneys. Gardner is represented by high-profile defense attorney Jose Baez, who says his client should be granted bond. While that won’t be discussed in court on Wednesday, the judge could announce when those arguments will be heard.

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Wednesday’s hearing comes after attorneys released 800 new documents related to the case that outline never-before-heard evidence against Gardner and Fernandez.

Those documents reveal that Tenon fired four shots. Two hit Bridegan, and the other two hit his SUV, missing his then-2-year-old daughter, who was still strapped in her car seat.

When police arrived, Good Samaritans were already taking care of the little girl. She later told police, “Daddy opened my car door and I heard a boom.” Then, after she saw Bridegan lying on the ground, the daughter said, “Daddy was sick.”

The ambush took place after Bridegan dropped his two older children off at Gardner’s house and was taking his usual route home.

RELATED: Jacksonville Beach lights dark stretch of road where Jared Bridegan was murdered | ‘Eager for the full truth’: Family of Jared Bridegan confident prosecutors ‘will ultimately provide justice for Jared’

Gardner and Fernandez are each facing charges of first-degree murder, solicitation to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and child abuse (because Bridegan’s daughter was present during the murder).

The mountain of documents released by attorneys gives insight into how police zeroed in on Gardner and Fernandez the night of the murder.

Gardner admitted on the night of the murder that “the divorce was not amicable,” and the ex-couple only communicated by text. Gardner told police her parents “hated” that Bridegan felt entitled to their money, and she told him he wasn’t getting any more.

Gardner’s father told police Bridegan “was set on making Shanna’s life miserable, even after the divorce and was “preoccupied with money.” The documents also said Gardner’s father was willing to pay off Bridegan to get rid of him.

Prosecutors have listed financial gain as a factor contributing to their decision to seek the death penalty against the couple.

The night of the shoting, Gardner said she “did not know if the victim had any issues with anyone which would lead to his death.”

During a later police interview, Fernandez’s statement contradicts his wife’s, saying, “You need to get in line if you’re looking for people who didn’t like him.”

Police also talked to Kirsten Bridegan, Jared’s widow, on the night of the shooting.

“Shanna and Mario lie to the kids and try to make Jared look bad to them. The only person who had ill will toward him is Shanna and Mario,” she told investigators.

On July 18, 2022, police went to a rental house in Jacksonville on Potomac Avenue owned by Fernandez and spotted a spare tire leaning against the house. The current renter said he’d found it on the curb and told police they could have it if they wanted. It later matched the tire found at the murder scene.

Fernandez pleaded not guilty to the charges against him when he was arraigned in July, and prosecutors have said they are not offering him a plea deal in the case.

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