Testimony began Tuesday (Sept. 6) in the St. Louis murder-for-hire trial of reality TV star James “Tim” Norman who’s accused of conspiring to have his nephew, Andre Montgomery Jr., killed to collect on a life insurance policy.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the prosecution told jurors that Norman was desperate for money. “The evidence will prove it is actually a very simple plan,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gwendolyn Carroll said in her opening remarks.
Norman and Montgomery starred in “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” a long-running OWN reality show about the popular soul-food business in St. Louis, co-owned with Norman’s mother, Robbie Montgomery, who is Andre’s grandmother.
Montgomery, 21, was killed outside of a St. Louis apartment complex in 2016. Norman is accused of taking out several life insurance policies on his nephew totaling over $450,000 and attempting to cash in the policies just days after his death. A burner phone and cell phone data were used to tie Norman to the crime.
The suspected shooter in the incident was identified as Travell Anthony Hill, 30, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire.
Hill said Terica Ellis, an exotic dancer who allegedly had a previous romantic relationship with Norman, lured Montgomery to the location where he was shot. Hill said he received $5,000 indirectly from Norman to kill Montgomery. And Ellis said Norman paid her $10,000 for her role. Norman and Ellis were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
In his opening remarks, defense attorney Michael Leonard said he will prove that his client was a concerned uncle and successful celebrity who has no connection to his nephew’s death.
“Tim always felt a special bond with Andre,” Leonard stated. “And he felt a special responsibility.”
Leonard said Norman obtained life insurance policies on his nephew because Montgomery’s budding rap career involved him getting into potentially deadly street conflicts. Further, the attorney argued that his client was financially well off and had no need for a fraudulent life insurance policy.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Faber took the witness stand on Tuesday to testify about text messages that appear to incriminate Norman. One of the texts from Montgomery to his grandmother said he feared his uncle after a burglary at her home in 2015.
In other texts, Norman allegedly told a cousin, two months before the killing, that he had recently been evicted from his St. Louis apartment and had more than $91,000 in monthly expenses but no income from the TV show.
The trial is expected to involve more than 100 pieces of evidence and last into next week.