ST. LOUIS (AP) — A murder-for-hire trial involving former stars of the reality TV show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” got underway this week in St. Louis, where prosecutors allege that James “Tim” Norman arranged his nephew’s killing because he needed money from a life insurance policy that he took out on the victim.
Norman’s attorneys said during opening statements Tuesday that he was a successful celebrity who was concerned about the safety of his nephew, Andre Montgomery Jr., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Norman, who is charged with murder for hire, and Montgomery both appeared on the reality TV show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” which ran on the OWN Network for five seasons. The series was based in a St. Louis-area restaurant owned by Robbie Montgomery, Norman’s mother and the victim’s grandmother.
During opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gwendolyn Carroll said Norman tried to collect on a $450,000 fraudulent life insurance policy that he took out on Andre Montgomery because he was badly in need of money to support a lavish lifestyle.
Prosecutors said they will prove Norman hired an exotic dancer, Terica Ellis, to lure Montgomery to a spot near a St. Louis park where he was shot by Travell Anthony Hill on March 14, 2016.
Ellis and Norman have both pleaded guilty to their roles in the plot. Ellis said Norman paid her $10,000; Hill said he received $5,000 indirectly from Norman after the shooting.
Waiel Rebhi Yaghnam, an insurance agent who in 2002 was one of the producers of Nelly’s hit album “Nellyville,” pleaded guilty in July to helping Norman take out a fraudulent policy on Montgomery.
Norman’s attorney, Michael Leonard, contended during his opening statement that Norman took out life insurance on his nephew because he was concerned that Montgomery’s aspiring rap career would get him killed.
Leonard said Norman didn’t need the insurance payout because of the success he had after selling the script for “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” to Oprah Winfrey’s TV network.
He said Norman was looking for his nephew in the days before the shooting because he believed Montgomery had stolen at least $220,000 in cash, jewelry and other items from his grandmother in 2015.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Faber testified Tuesday that Montgomery left the St. Louis area shortly after the burglary to avoid Norman but agreed to briefly return to take a polygraph test. He was killed four days after he took that test.
Faber’s testimony also included texts from Norman to a cousin about two months before the killing that said he had been evicted from his apartment and had more than $91,000 in monthly expenses with no money coming in while the TV show was on hiatus.
The trial is expected to involve more than 100 pieces of evidence and last into next week.