Husband of Jared Bridegan’s ex-wife charged in ambush murder

Warrant: Phone records, bank statements and rental property link Mario Fernandez to murder

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Gene Paul Smith announced Thursday the arrest of Mario Fernandez Saldana, 34, in the murder case of Jared Bridegan.

He was arrested in Kissimmee Thursday morning and is now in the Orange County Jail.

“This is a capital felony punishable by death, or mandatory life in prison,” Nelson said.

Fernandez is the husband of Bridegan’s ex-wife, Shanna Gardner-Fernandez. He’s charged with first degree murder with a weapon, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, solicitation to commit a capital felony and child abuse.

Watch entire news conference below

The state attorney’s office identified Henry Tenon, 61, as the shooter. He was arrested last month, and is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, second-degree murder with a weapon, accessory after the fact to a capital felony and felony child abuse.

According to the arrest warrant, bank records showed three handwritten checks that Fernandez wrote to Tenon. It also reads “phone records show that Tenon and Fernandez had 35 phone contacts in February, 30 contacts in March and five to nine contacts in May and June, 2022.”

“The 35 calls could be argued that it was preparation and planning and it appears that the shooter knew the victim’s schedule, knew where he would be at, setting up a trap possibly,” said Reganel Reeves, an attorney with Esquire Litigation Group, who is not affiliated with the case.

Widow says 1-year mark ‘hard to process’ despite progress in Jared Bridegan murder conspiracy

“We have fought hard for the truth, and the world now knows what we’ve known all along--that Jared truly was an innocent victim,” Bridegan’s widow, Kirsten, said at the news conference. “We’re here today feeling many emotions. We have great relief knowing that two of the people behind my husband’s murder are now behind bars and are no longer a threat to our family. We’re also still angry, angry that they were walking free.”

Nelson said Tenon plead guilty in court Thursday and agreed to testify against those who helped.

Reeves said Tenon’s agreeance to testify is “damaging.”

“I think it’s very damaging to the ex’s husband in this case, the defendant, to have somebody very connected to him to testify to say that he was involved,” Reeves said.

Neighbors in the Jacksonville Beach neighborhood said they are relieved to know arrests have been made.

“It finally happened. I knew the gentleman, the man who was originally arrested. It wasn’t just him,” Candance Mabry said.

“I’m glad to hear there has been an arrest, and I know justice will be done,” Lewis Wade said.

Feb. 16, 2022, Bridegan left the home of his ex-wife in Jacksonville Beach and then stopped on a dark stretch of road near the Sanctuary neighborhood to move a tire out of the road, according to investigators.

Bridegan, 33, was then shot at close range several times while his toddler daughter was still strapped into her car seat in the back of his SUV. No arrests were made in connection with the ambush murder for nearly a year until investigators announced one in January.

According to court documents, the conspiracy that led to the murder of Bridegan began Jan. 4, 2022 -- just over a month before he was killed.

Nelson said at a news conference in January: “We know Henry Tenon did not act alone.”

Bridegan murder suspect, Henry Tenon, to appear in court

Kirsten Bridegan said in February that the news of a conspiracy had only confirmed her suspicions.

“I’ve felt that way since early on, so it did not come as a surprise to me. And I’m just hoping that we’ll get those additional arrests in the near future,” she said. “I have my full faith in the investigation and the people that are working on it, and we’re gonna get there.”

The News4JAX I-TEAM uncovered records confirming that Tenon rented a house owned by Fernandez in Northwest Jacksonville, about 25 miles from the scene of the Jacksonville Beach shooting. Melissa Nelson confirmed this information on Thursday.

There’s been a lot of public interest in Bridegan’s ex-wife, who has proclaimed her innocence in interviews with other outlets.

Mario Fernandez (left) and Shanna Gardner-Fernandez (right) (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

According to sources, Gardner-Fernandez moved with her children across the country to Benton County, Washington, where her family has a home.

Nelson said that the investigation continues.

Mario Fernandez Saldana is represented by Jesse Dreicer. He said he is prepared to represent his client. Dreicer confirmed he was his attorney before today and does not know when his client will be moved to Jacksonville.

Hank Coxe is the attorney for Shanna Gardner Fernandez. He told News4JAX, “I think it is inappropriate to comment publicly about a pending matter.”

The Public Defender’s Office is representing Henry Tenon. News4JAX also left a message with Chief Public Defender, Charlie Cofer.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.