ST. LOUIS – The son of a famed local restauranteur is on trial for allegedly orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot against his own nephew in order to cash in on a six-figure insurance policy.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri said James Timothy “Tim” Norman, who operated his own Sweetie Pie’s in Jackson, Mississippi, 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 the soul food restaurant Sweetie Pie’s in north St. Louis County in 1996. The restaurant and family were the subjects of a reality show produced by Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.”
Jurors were seated Tuesday to hear opening remarks in the case against Norman, with U.S. District Court Judge John Ross presiding.
Federal prosecutors claim that in March 2016, Norman contacted and communicated with Terica Ellis, an exotic dancer living in Memphis, Tennessee, who told Norman via cellphone she would be in St. Louis.
On the day prior to Andre Montgomery’s death, Norman flew to St. Louis from the Los Angeles area. Once in St. Louis, prosecutors say both Norman and Ellis communicated with each other via burner phones. Ellis also used the phone to learn Montgomery’s location and then called Norman and Travell Hill.
Montgomery was shot and killed in the 3900 block of Natural Bridge Road just after 8 p.m. on March 14, 2016. Montgomery was 21.
Hill, the accused trigger man, pleaded guilty to one count of murder-for-hire and one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire in June 2022. He’d been indicted in November 2020.
In late August 2020, Norman and Ellis were arrested and charged with murder-for-hire conspiracy. That same week, Norman and Waiel Yaghnam were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
Information from Ellis’ burner phone placed her near the scene of Montgomery’s murder. After Montgomery was killed, Ellis called Norman and then drove back to Memphis.
Prosecutors say on March 16, 2020, Travell Hill received a cash payment of $5,000 from Tim Norman. That same day, Hill placed a call to an individual in jail and discussed both Montgomery’s murder and the $5,000 payment. That phone conversation was recorded.
In the days following Montgomery’s death, Ellis made several bank deposits totaling $9,000. Norman also attempted to collect on his nephew’s life insurance policy but was denied due to a lack of documentation.
According to prosecutors, Norman conspired with his insurance agent, Yaghnam, to fraudulently obtain the life insurance policy on Montgomery. In October 2015, the pair submitted three separate life insurance applications, each of them containing false information regarding Montgomery’s income, net worth, medical history, employment, and family background.
In the policy that was ultimately issued, 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.
In February 2021, prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty against Norman and the co-conspirators. Meanwhile, both Ellis and Yaghnam pleaded guilty in July 2022 to their roles in the conspiracy.
During Tuesday’s opening statements, prosecutors attempted to paint an image of Tim Norman as a devious mastermind who schemed with others to have his nephew killed. Norman’s attorneys say several of the prosecution’s would-be witnesses have credibility problems and insist their client tried mentoring Montgomery over the years, going as far as enrolling the young man in Nelly’s music production school and getting him an apartment.
Prosecutors say Norman was staying in Los Angeles at the time to provide himself with an alibi in Andre’s murder. The defense argued Norman was there because the family’s restaurant business was expanding. They claim he was not hurting for money and thus had no motive to kill his nephew.
Another point of contention mentioned in opening statements was a June 2015 burglary at Robbie Montgomery’s home. More than $200,000 in cash and other valuables were stolen from the residence. Norman pointed the finger at Andre, who left the area shortly after the crime. Text messages presented in court on Tuesday between Andre and his grandmother indicate the young man feared for his own safety. Andre returned to the St. Louis area in March 2016 to speak with police and take a polygraph test. Andre denied any involvement in the burglary and suggested his uncle might be responsible.
Andre Montgomery was killed four days later.