ST. LOUIS – After a brief delay in proceedings Tuesday morning, the man accused of plotting to have his nephew murdered for an insurance payout took the stand in his own defense. James Timothy “Tim” Norman denied involvement in the 2016 murder of Andre Montgomery Jr.

Andre Montgomery Jr.
Andre Montgomery Jr. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

“Did you have anything to do with the murder of Andre Montgomery?” defense attorney Michael Leonad said.

“No sir,” Norman said.

Norman claimed he didn’t know who gunned down his nephew until summer 2022, when the trigger man pleaded guilty.

Norman is the son of Robbie Montgomery, who founded Sweetie Pie’s in 1996. Norman was a co-owner of some of the restaurants by 2015 and 2016. The Montgomery family starred in the reality show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” produced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.

On the stand, Norman recalled his upbringing and working for Sweetie Pie’s. He’d been a manager since 2010, working between 15 and 16 hours a day. The show began filming that year. In 2011, when the show premiered on television, Norman became manager of the “Mangrove” location on Manchester Avenue in Tower Grove.

Norman estimated he made at least $55,000 in revenue each week from the restaurants, store merchandise, and ATMs he operated.

Andre Montgomery moved to St. Louis from Texas to finish high school. He lived with his grandmother at the time, Norman said.

Norman told the court he tried writing Andre into the show as much as possible and mentored him. After he graduated high school, Andre moved back to Texas. However, Andre came back to St. Louis half a year later. Norman said Andre had issues in Texas and felt it would be better for him in St. Louis.

Andre moved back in September 2014 and Norman set him up with an apartment at the same building Norman lived (just a couple doors down on the same floor). Norman paid for the apartment.

Andre Montgomery Jr. was shot and killed in the 3900 block of Natural Bridge Road just after 8 p.m. on March 14, 2016. He was 21. (Courtesy: U.S. Attorney’s Office)

In addition, Norman said he pulled strings and paid for Andre to attend Nelly’s music producer school, the Ex’treme Institute. He provided Andre with transportation to and from the school and let him use his own vehicles at the time. Norman also gave Andre a daily allowance.

Norman contacted his insurance agent, Waiel “Wally” Yaghnam, to acquire a policy for Andre. According to Norman, Yaghnam met with Andre on Oct. 7, 2014, to ask the young man questions for insurance applications.

Norman understood he’d be the owner on the policy and that he’d be responsible for paying the premiums. He said he didn’t want Andre to know he could pull money out of the policy for personal use.

In spring 2015, Andre stopped going to work and dropped out of the Extreme Institute, Norman said. Andre moved out of the apartment Norman had been paying for in mid-2015. Norman said the family cut off Andre financially after this.

By June 2015, Norman moved to Los Angeles to oversee a new Sweetie Pie’s restaurant. That same month, burglars broke into Robbie Montgomery’s home. More than $200,000 in cash and other valuables were stolen from the residence. Norman had jewelry, fur coats, computers, TV scripts, and recording equipment stolen from his mother’s home, as well as music masters. He blamed Andre for the burglary, who left the area shortly after the crime. 

Norman said the family hired a private investigator to locate Andre and he told people they were looking for him. From the stand, Norman said he never told anyone that he wanted his nephew harmed or killed.

Andre returned to St. Louis in March 2016 and Norman said he was notified on March 6. Norman said it’d been nine to 10 months since he last saw his nephew. He said Andre had grown and put on weight. At no point did he want to kill or harm Andre, he said.

After learning his nephew was back in town, Norman said he kept his normal schedule. He would fly back to St. Louis on March 13 or 14 to visit the Sweetie Pie’s locations in town, empty their safes on a Monday, and make bank deposits.

Federal prosecutors allege Norman arranged Montgomery’s murder for $450,000 in insurance benefits, of which Norman was the sole beneficiary.

Andre Montgomery Jr. was shot and killed in the 3900 block of Natural Bridge Road just after 8 p.m. on March 14, 2016. He was 21. Norman was one of four people indicted in the conspiracy.

The gunman, Travell Hill, pleaded guilty in June 2022 to one count of murder-for-hire and one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. He’ll be sentenced on Sept. 20.

Norman testified he did not order anyone to pay Hill $5,000.

Terica Ellis, an exotic dancer in Memphis, Tennessee, was accused of setting Andre up and tipping off Norman and others about Andre’s location prior to the murder. Ellis pleaded guilty in July 2022 to one count of murder-for-hire conspiracy. She’ll be sentenced on Oct. 26.

Norman said he met Ellis at an East St. Louis strip club in 2009. Months later, they began an on-again, off-again sexual relationship. However, Norman testified that those encounters were not free. He said he paid Ellis $200 to $300 each time they met. After “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” debuted on television, the cost of their sexual encounters increased to between $700 and $1,000.

Norman said he routinely see women at the Chase Park Plaza hotel in the Central West End. He said he would use burner phones to keep his fiance at the time from finding out about his infidelities.

Yaghnam was indicted in August 2020 on one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. He pleaded guilty in July 2022. He’ll be sentenced on Oct. 26.

Prosecutors allege Norman conspired with Yaghnam to fraudulently obtain the life insurance policy on Montgomery. That policy contained a $200,000 base with a $200,000 accidental death rider that would pay out if Montgomery died of anything besides natural causes, and a $50,000 10-year term rider that would pay out if Montgomery died within a decade of the policy being approved.

Norman said he did not fill out the life insurance applications. Defense attorney Leonard implied Yaghnam and an associate of his were the ones who filled out the forms and kept Norman in the dark.

After testifying for several hours, Norman’s cross-examination was brief – about 10 minutes. Prosecutors pointed out that American Express had won a debt judgement against Norman in September 2015 for over $200,000. They also inquired about the burner phones.

Earlier Tuesday, Melodie Calvert, an executive producer on “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” testified castmembers were required to wear wireless mics while taping episodes of the show. Calvert said the cast was told their phones must be on speaker while using them, so the TV cameras could record the conversations. However, Calvert told the court some in the cast would occasionally use prepaid phones for personal conversations away from the cameras.

Prosecutors asked Norman why he’d give Terica Ellis a prepaid phone if she wasn’t a castmember on the show.

Closing arguments are expected Wednesday morning. The jury will begin deliberations afterward.