ST. LOUIS – A woman convicted in the Sweetie Pie’s murder-for-hire conspiracy testified Thursday, along with several other witnesses. Terica Ellis told the jury about what happened before the death of Andre Montgomery Jr.

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

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri said James Timothy “Tim” Norman, a co-owner of Sweetie Pie’s soul food restaurants in the St. Louis area, took out a $450,000 life insurance policy in 2015 on his nephew, Andre Montgomery Jr., with Norman named as the sole beneficiary.

Norman is the son of Robbie Montgomery, who founded Sweetie Pie’s in 1996. The restaurant and Montgomery family were the subjects of a reality show produced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network called, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.”

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

In federal court Thursday, Ellis says she met with Norman at a hotel in the early morning hours of March 14, 2016. The exotic dancer was working at an East St. Louis strip club overnight. Ellis said she lived in the Memphis area, but made frequent trips to St. Louis for weekend work. She said she knew Norman since 2011 and he was a “friend with benefits.”

That night Ellis recalled Norman saying that his nephew had stolen money and jewelry from his mother’s house and he wanted to get her belongings back. Norman then reportedly showed her a photo of his nephew, later identified as Montgomery. Ellis said she knew him and had exchanged phone numbers.

Per Elllis’ testimony, Norman then offered her $10,000 to help him find Montgomery. He gave her the money in a bag and the two left the hotel. According to Ellis’ testimony, she started communicating with Montgomery before she left the hotel.

According to Ellis’ testimony, she started communicating with Montgomery before she left the hotel and was given a prepaid phone to further communicate with him. Ellis then switched to texting Montgomery on a prepaid phone purchased at a Walgreens and falsely told him her other one was broken as part of Norman’s request. 

Ellis says she met Montgomery early in the afternoon at a La Quinta Inn. Montgomery informed her he was on a photoshoot, then asked her to buy him a new outfit, but had not offered any money. Ellis says she went to the Galleria to purchase some clothes and meet Montgomery again around 7 p.m. at an address in the 3900 block of Natural Bridge Road. She had also been in communication with Norman about the meet-up.

Prior to then, Norman also asked Ellis to stay in touch with a contact named “Tim’s Homeboy” on the prepaid phone. That contact, formally known as Travel Hill and also convicted in the case, later traveled to the address after talking to Ellis and instructed Ellis to “Move” via text after Montgomery left her car after a brief conversation between the two. In that conversation, Ellis says there was no indication Hill had a gun or would harm Montgomery. 

Ellis says she sped off after Montgomery left the car. Within seconds, she heard gunshots and contacted Norman about the situation, who told her “don’t worry about it, go home” over a call. Norman then informed Ellis to drive away from St. Louis, delete her Instagram account and get rid of her burner phone, per her testimony. 

Later in March, Ellis was in contact with Norman and informed to stay out of St. Louis since she was wanted for questioning in Montgomery’s death. 

Travell Hill, the accused trigger man, offered testimony after Ellis. Hill was indicted in November 2020 on one count of murder-for-hire and one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. He pleaded guilty in June 2022, and he’ll be sentenced on Sept. 20.

Hill, who claims he supported himself through drug deals, says he met with Norman and another acquaintance known as White Boy Chris before the night of the deadly shooting. After meeting with both, Hill says he went to purchase a gun and had been in contact with Ellis about her plans to meet Montgomery. 

Based on his testimony, Hill says he learned of Montgomery’s location through Ellis and parked at a house nearby where she was parked. Montgomery entered Ellis’ car outside of the given address to briefly meet her. When Montgomery got out of the car, Hill says he shot him, left the scene and threw out the cell phone he just used. Hill claims he made the decision to shoot Montgomery alone and was not pressured by anyone else, including Norman. 

A witness in the plot, Darrell Howard, took the stand after Hill. Howard, who went by the nickname D.J. Beetz, said he met with Norman for about an hour on the day Montgomery had died. Norman instructed him to pick up $5,000 at a hotel, but did not specify a reason to pick it up. Howard had held money for Howard on prior occasions, though had known why in previous situations, according to his testimony. 

Days after Montgomery was killed, Norman instructed Howard to give the money to his nephew Travel Hill. After that exchange, Howard says he next meet Norman in March 26 to analyze a music video Howard produced. Howard then offered condolences over Montgomery’s death, though says Norman responded with a “forget him” mindset. Howard claims before and after Montgomery’s death that Norman never said anything about wanting to harm or kill Montgomery and he initially didn’t know Norman wanted to get back at Montgomery for stealing. 

FBI agents Daniel Root and James Applebaum later took the stand to read text messages as evidence of conversations involving Norman from 2014 to 2018 regarding the life insurance policy on Montgomery. In a 2014 exchange, before Montgomery’s death, a text message from informing him to “act like you’re Andre” in order to get a life insurance police approval.

In a 2018 thread cited as evidence, Norman had also given Waiel Yagnum, his personal insurance agent, approval to proceed with an insurance claim in which the company needed documentation that he was cleared in Montgomery’s murder. During that conversation cited in court, Norman said he was in California, not St. Louis, at the time of Montgomery’s death.

Yaghnam, who has not testified, was indicted in August 2020 on one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. He pleaded guilty in July 2022. Both Ellis and Yaghnam will be sentenced on Oct. 26.

In the policy that was ultimately issued, through Foresters, Norman obtained a $200,000 policy 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.

On Tuesday, four representatives had testified that Norman was listed as the sole owner and beneficiary on each of the applications and Yaghnam filed the paperwork.

Prosecutors allege Norman attempted to conceal this plan from Andre. On one application filed by Yaghnam, the base policy was set at exactly $249,999, a single dollar below a trigger amount set by the insurer that would have required Andre to take an in-person medical exam to determine if he was a health risk.

Robbie Montgomery’s home was burglarized in June 2015. More than $200,000 in cash and other valuables were stolen from the residence. Norman pointed the finger at Andre months before his death, though testimony given in court reiterates he wanted to get back at Andre after the burglary. FBI agent Chris Faber, who testified Tuesday, said the FBI does not know who committed the burglary. However, he said county authorities had cleared Andre.