Restaurant Reality-Show Star Charged in Murder-for-Hire Scheme

He is accused of hiring two people to kill his nephew.

Robbie Montgomery, center, and James 'Tim' Norman, right, at Sweetie Pie's, St. Louis, April 19, 2011.
Robbie Montgomery, center, and James "Tim" Norman, right, at Sweetie Pie's, St. Louis, April 19, 2011.
David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former star in a St. Louis-based “Welcome to Sweetie Pie's” reality television show testified Tuesday that he was not involved in the killing of his nephew.

James “Tim” Norman, 43, is accused of hiring two people to kill 21-year-old Andre Montgomery in March 2016 and then trying to cash a $450,000 life insurance policy he took out on his nephew in the months before he was killed.

Norman, 43, told jurors that he helped his nephew move to St. Louis about 18 months before he was killed and supported him financially because he was trying to watch out for Montgomery, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“This is my brother’s kid, so I tried my best to step in and be a father figure,” Norman told the jury. “I tried my best to show him right from wrong and tried to be a friend at the same time.”

Norman and Montgomery starred in “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” a reality show on the OWN network that was based at a popular soul-food business founded by Norman’s mother and Montgomery's grandmother, Robbie Montgomery.

Norman is facing two federal murder-for-hire counts and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

Prosecutors said Norman paid $10,000 to an exotic dancer, Terica Ellis, to lure his nephew to the site where he was shot and paid $5,000 to Travell Anthony Hill to shoot Montgomery.

Ellis and Hill have both pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme.

Norman testified Tuesday that he took out the life insurance policy on his nephew to give a longtime customer of the family restaurants, Waiel Rebhi Yaghnam, some business.

Yaghnam pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and wire fraud in the case.

Montgomery left St. Louis after at least $220,000 in cash, jewelry and other items were stolen in a June 2015 burglary at Robbie Montgomery's home.

Norman told jurors he and his mother hired a private investigator to find his nephew, but he had no intention of hurting him.

He said he flew to St. Louis on March 14, 2016 — the day of Montgomery's death — as part of regular stops to do jobs for Sweetie Pie's.

He said he paid Ellis only $1,000 for sex and $2,000 to help her open a boutique in Memphis. He acknowledged he asked Ellis to help him find Montgomery but never paid her to do so.

Norman testified he connected Ellis and Hill to find Montgomery because he wanted to get back items stolen from Robbie Montgomery's home. He said he never paid Hill to shoot his nephew and didn't know he was the shooter for years after his nephew's death.

Robbie Montgomery, the primary figure on “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” attended court Monday and Tuesday during her son’s defense but declined to comment on the case. The defense originally intended to call her as a character witness. But prosecutors successfully opposed her testimony as not relevant to the case.

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