Jury begins deliberation in murder-for-hire trial of 'Sweetie Pie's' star Tim Norman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Sep. 14—ST. LOUIS — Jurors in the murder-for-hire trial of former reality TV star James "Tim" Norman heard dramatically different closing arguments before they began to deliberate before noon Wednesday.
Norman, 43, is accused of orchestrating the 2016 murder of his 21-year-old nephew, Andre Montgomery, and then attempting to cash out up to $450,000 in a fraudulent life insurance policy he took out on Montgomery before he was killed.
He faces two federal murder-for-hire counts and one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.
Norman and his nephew starred in "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's," a long-running OWN reality show about the popular soul-food business Robbie Montgomery — Norman's mother and Andre's grandmother — founded in the St. Louis area.
Assistant United States Attorney Angie Danis said in her closing argument for the prosecution that Norman initiated the plot to kill his nephew in hopes of a payout.
"Not only did he know, he was the architect of this plan," Danis said. "This plan doesn't exist but for Tim Norman's greed."
Norman's defense attorney Michael Leonard responded in closing arguments that the murder plot presented by prosecutors was a "made up theory."
"The picture from everyone in this case was that he was a man of character," Leonard said.
Prosecutors argued the day of the shooting Norman paid $10,000 to an exotic dancer, Terica Ellis, to track his nephew's location. They accuse Norman of then using a friend to pay $5,000 to the shooter, Travell Anthony Hill, after he killed Montgomery.
Both Ellis and Hill testified for the prosecution.
"The defendant saw his opportunity to cash in and he tried," Danis argued. "He had his own nephew executed."
Norman made the rare decision for a criminal defendant to take the stand in his own defense in the final day of testimony Tuesday.
He told the jury he asked Hill and Ellis to find and confront his nephew about a recent burglary at his mother's home, but said he never paid them or asked them to hurt his nephew.
He testified that about 18 months before the killing, he brought Montgomery to St. Louis, paid his rent and enrolled him in music school. He said he then cut him off financially after Montgomery stopped going to work and school.
The defense called former Sweetie Pie's employees and other character witnesses who said Norman and his nephew were close.
Leonard questioned the credibility of the testimony from Norman's alleged co-conspirators and argued Ellis felt compelled to testify to get a shorter sentence.
"In making life's most important decisions would you make that based upon a stripper who said she looked in your face and lied to you?" Leonard said.
He also emphasized that the shooter, Hill, who prosecutors called Norman's "hired gun," said: "Nobody else should be responsible for my actions but me. I looked up to Tim as a mentor."
Hill testified that he bought a gun and killed Montgomery after he was told by a mutual acquaintance that Norman would pay to have his nephew killed.
Hill said he was paid $5,000 after the killing by another man, Darryl Howard, who testified he made the payment at Norman's direction.
Leonard emphasized that Hill testified he was a heavy drug user at the time and "hopped up on drugs that day."
"That's the level of credibility of their star witnesses," Leonard said pointing to prosecutors.
In her rebuttal, prosecutor Danis told jurors not to trust Norman's testimony.
"The defendant sat up there for four hours and spun tales because that's what he does," Danis said. "There's about 45 reasons why you can't trust a word this man says."
Danis emphasized that all the testimony from alleged co-conspirators was backed up in trial by texts, call records and location data.
"He scripted a show to portray an image of wealth and success that wasn't real," Danis said. She said Norman in trial created "an image of being a mentor and a father figure to all these people, but it's fiction."
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