JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man investigators say was behind the money in a conspiracy to kill a St. Johns County father of four in February 2022 has been transferred to the Duval County jail.
Mario Fernandez Saldana was arrested in Orange County last week on charges of first-degree murder with a weapon, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, solicitation to commit a capital felony and child abuse.
“This is a capital felony punishable by death or mandatory life in prison,” State Attorney Melissa Nelson said last Thursday.
The charges stem from the Feb. 16, 2022, murder of Jared Bridegan, 33, who was shot at close range several times on a dark stretch of road near the Sanctuary neighborhood while his toddler daughter was still strapped into her car seat in the back of his SUV. Police said bullets fired at Bridegan went inside the car, inches from his daughter’s car seat.
The man who says he pulled that trigger -- 61-year-old Henry Tenon -- pleaded guilty last Thursday to second-degree murder with a weapon in Bridegan’s ambush killing. Tenon was arrested last month.
Nelson said in a news conference that when Tenon pleaded guilty, he agreed to testify against Fernandez, who investigators say was behind the months-long conspiracy to kill Bridegan that began Nov. 1, 2021, according to Fernandez’s indictment.
Fernandez, 34, is the husband of Bridegan’s ex-wife, Shanna Gardner-Fernandez.
Tenon’s original court records said he became involved in the conspiracy on Jan. 4, 2022 -- just over a month before Bridegan was killed.
Investigators said when Tenon was arrested on an unrelated felony driving charge in August 2022, they questioned him about Bridegan’s murder and a Ford F-150 truck they had been searching for since the shooting.
Tenon was later arrested in January 2023 for Bridegan’s murder. Investigators said the single link between Tenon and Bridegan was Fernandez.
The News4JAX I-TEAM had previously 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. Nelson confirmed this information on Thursday.
According to the arrest warrant for Fernandez, bank records showed three handwritten checks that Fernandez wrote to Tenon. The amount of the checks was redacted from the document.
Watch entire news conference below:
“We know Henry Tenon did not act alone, and Tenon has confirmed this to be true. His cooperation has both corroborated evidence collected during the investigation and provided additional evidence against Mario Fernandez Saldana for his role in the planning and execution of Jared’s murder,” Nelson said.
Investigators said they also discovered that the two men had more than 70 interactions via phone in the months before and after Bridegan was killed.
Fernandez’s warrant 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.”
According to the warrant, Bridegan had been on a routine “date night” with his children the night he was killed and had dropped off the two children he shared with his ex-wife before taking the typical route he traveled home.
“This road, unlike the nearby commercial area, is dark and mostly residential with no businesses in the immediate area,” the warrant reads.
The weapon from the shooting has not been recovered.
The state attorney did not give details on a possible motive, but the arrest warrant notes Fernandez’s wife had a highly acrimonious divorce from Bridegan, who had a contentious relationship with Fernandez.
Gardner and Bridegan were married in 2010 and divorced in 2015. They shared custody of their 9-year-old twins. The arrest warrant also makes note that “up until the murder, Gardner shared equal custody of her children with Bridegan.”
The arrest warrant said Gardner met Fernandez at her CrossFit gym in 2018. He worked there as a maintenance man.
There’s been a lot of public interest in Bridegan’s ex-wife, who has proclaimed her innocence in interviews with other outlets.
According to sources, Gardner (now Gardner-Fernandez) moved with her children across the country to Benton County, Washington, where her family has a home.
The Daily Mail reported in January that Fernandez was staying with his brother in Orlando. He was arrested in that area Thursday.
Bridegan’s widow, Kirsten, said in February that the news of a conspiracy had only confirmed her suspicions.
She spoke again at Thursday’s news conference.
“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,” Kirsten Bridegan 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 the investigation continues and many details are still being withheld because of that.
Duval County court records don’t show any prior arrests for Fernandez; just a few traffic tickets.
Fernandez is represented by Jesse Dreicer. He said he is prepared to represent his client. Dreicer confirmed before the arrest that he represents Fernandez and said he does not know when his client will be moved to Jacksonville.
Hank Coxe, the attorney for Gardner-Fernandez, told News4JAX: “I think it is inappropriate to comment publicly about a pending matter.”
The Public Defender’s Office is representing Tenon. News4JAX also left a message with Chief Public Defender Charlie Cofer after the guilty plea was announced Thursday.