ST. LOUIS — One of four defendants in a murder-for-hire case involving a star of the reality TV show "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's" pleaded guilty Friday in federal court.
Travell Hill, 30, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and another count of murder-for-hire in the March 2016 killing of Andre Montgomery Jr.
Montgomery, who was 21 when he was killed, is the grandson of Robbie Montgomery, the founder of soul food restaurant Sweetie Pie's.
In the plea agreement, Hill admitted he shot and killed Montgomery on March 14, 2016, outside a home on the 3900 block of Natural Bridge Ave. in exchange for several thousand dollars.
On the day of the murder, Hill met James Timothy Norman, who is Andre Montgomery Jr.'s uncle and Robbie Montgomery's son, near the Clinton-Peabody Housing Complex south of downtown St. Louis for a "discussion." After the meeting, "it was Hill's understanding that Norman wanted Hill to kill Montgomery."
Also on that day, Norman, 43, and Terica Ellis, who are both also charged with conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire, bought and activated prepaid cellphones from a Walgreens in the Central West End neighborhood. Ellis told Norman to “initiate all further communication with her” using the newly purchased cellphone, according to the indictment.
During the meeting near the housing complex, where Hill lived, Norman told Hill that Ellis would call him later that day with Montgomery's location. Hill then obtained a .380 caliber semiautomatic handgun from someone who lived near his apartment.
He chose that type of gun because it "was small and could be easily concealed inside his sweatshirt." The person who gave the gun to Hill is not named in court documents.
At about 7:07 p.m., Montgomery texted his location—“3964 natural bridge”—to Ellis, who then relayed the address to Hill and Norman. Additionally, Ellis “called, attempted to call or sent text messages” to Hill at least five times, according to court documents.
Ellis, 33, an exotic dancer from Memphis who was in a relationship with Norman, told Hill that she would lure Montgomery outside the home in the city’s Greater Ville neighborhood so Hill could shoot him.
At about 8 p.m., Hill arrived at the home, and Montgomery came outside a short time later, an account supported by witnesses.
Initially, Hill wasn't sure if the man who came outside the home was Montgomery. In order to confirm his identity, Hill asked Montgomery if he had any marijuana.
At that point, Montgomery walked toward a vehicle and talked with someone inside, whom Hill assumed was Ellis.
Shortly after 8 p.m., as Montgomery was walking back toward the home, Hill called out to him. Montgomery walked toward Hill, who then shot him multiple times.
Minutes after the murder, Ellis called Norman and began driving home to Memphis. Norman, who had flown to St. Louis from Los Angeles earlier in the day, returned to California in the early morning hours of March 15, 2016.
On March 16, 2016, Norman told Hill to meet with someone “known to both Hill and Norman” near the intersection of Chouteau Avenue and Dillon Court, which is close to Hill’s apartment in the housing complex.
The person gave Hill a bag containing about $5,000 and told Hill to “keep your mouth quiet.”
Prosecutors said Hill discussed Montgomery’s murder and subsequent payment in recorded calls with his brother, who was in jail.
Also in the days following Montgomery’s murder, Ellis deposited more than $9,000 in cash—part of $10,000 Norman allegedly paid her—into multiple bank accounts in Memphis.
A fourth person, Waiel Rebhi Yaghnam, Norman's insurance agent, is charged with mail and wire fraud, and several counts of aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors said that Yaghnam, 44, helped Norman submit five separate applications for life insurance policies on Montgomery, all of which contained falsified information.
After Montgomery's death, Norman, who is also charged with wire and mail fraud, tried to collect a $450,000 policy that was ultimately issued—a base policy of $200,000, as well as a $200,000 accidental death rider that would pay out in the event that Montgomery died of something other than natural causes and a $50,000 rider that would pay out if Montgomery died within 10 years of the policy's issuance in 2014.
Both counts to which Hill pleaded guilty carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison, according to the plea agreement. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20.
A jury trial for the other three defendants is scheduled for September 6. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for either Norman or Ellis.
A message left Friday afternoon with Hill's attorney, Peter Cohen, was not immediately returned.
Robbie Montgomery remembers her grandson
In a reunion special of "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's," Robbie Montgomery reflected on the death of her grandson.
"Andre was like somebody that I wanted to take under my wing and make sure that he made it. And my goal was to get him through high school," adding she wanted him to go back home to Texas because "St. Louis is a city where Black men are killing each other."
Norman, who was also a part of the episode, said "we've lost the entire family to violence," adding that he and his cousin, Charles Crenshaw, are the only two left from their generation.
In an episode of the show from November 2016, Andre Montgomery Jr. said he probably wouldn't have graduated high school in Texas.
"The only time I would have gotten help with schoolwork is if we had a game coming up, and for two ... I would've been fighting," he said.
Norman is featured in the episode talking to Montgomery and Crenshaw, giving them tips on effectively operating a delivery service for the restaurant.
Montgomery is also shown dressed in a chicken suit, drumming up business from drivers traveling near the restaurant—something his grandma called "a great idea."
In an interview with OWN, Norman went to the crime scene with his mother.
"We've lost a lot of family members here on this street, Andre as of late," Norman said.
“Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” aired on OWN for five seasons from October 2011–June 2018.