Custody battle for Zoey Belcher turns ugly - KCTV5 News

Custody battle for Zoey Belcher turns ugly

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A Jackson County judge will decide next week who should get custody of little Zoey Michelle Belcher.

And the fight has increasingly become nasty and personal with accusations of illegal or questionable behavior being filed.

The hearing began Tuesday and concluded Thursday afternoon. Judge Daniel Wheeler said he will issue his ruling by next Thursday, and he told attorneys and family members that he faces a difficult decision.

He said he would rather the families work out their differences before he has to issue the ruling.

Zoey was born Sept. 11, 2012. Less than three months later on Dec. 1, her father, Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, fatally shot her mother, Kasandra Perkins.

Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where he put a gun to his head and fired the trigger before horrified team officials, including the then-general manager and coach.

Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, who lives in New York, wants custody. She wants her granddaughter to live with her in New York.

Perkins' cousin, Sophie Perkins, who lives in Austin, TX, is also seeking custody.

Shepherd took the stand Tuesday afternoon. She said she had supported her son and his girlfriend, who she considered like a daughter, during the pregnancy and after the child was born. The couple had issues, and Shepherd had moved into their east Kansas City house about three weeks before the murder-suicide.

Shepherd was there when Belcher fired nine rounds into Kasandra Perkins. She frantically called 911 and could be heard pleading with Perkins not to die.

On Wednesday, Shepherd faced tough questions as to why police came to her home 70 times in 15 years. Many were for domestic disturbances or harassment calls with Shepherd saying the other calls were of a minor nature.

Shepherd said the incidents involved her adult daughters and their ex-boyfriends, not her. She said most, but not all, of the incidents occurred before Zoey's birth.

She said her son would want her to raise his daughter.

After the murder-suicide last year, police officers and social workers gave Zoey to Shepherd's care. She was making funeral arrangements for her son, and allowed her granddaughter to travel to Texas for her mother's funeral. She thought she would get Zoey back.

But Kasandra Perkins' family then refused to give up custody. The child is enrolled in a Texas daycare. Perkins' family members said they are involved in raising the child, but have allowed Belcher's family to see his daughter on occasion. 

Rebecca Gonzales and Darryl Perkins, Kasandra Perkins' parents, testified that their daughter would have wanted Sophie Perkins to have custody of her daughter. They said Sophie Perkins is a better option than they are because she is a loving young woman who is a responsible homeowner and has a stable career.

Darryl Perkins was grilled about his drug use. He admitted he had used cocaine, including in the past year. He also said he went to drug rehab some years ago.

Shepherd's attorney argued that since Darryl Perkins has been in jail for more than one driving-while-intoxicated charge and has drug issues, it wouldn't be safe for his granddaughter to be around him on a regular basis.

Sophie Perkins' attorney argued that Shepherd is a smoker and Zoey would face the dangers of second-hand smoke while in her custody. But Shepherd said she does not smoke inside her home.

Sophie Perkins testified Thursday about her upbringing and her life. A graduate of Texas Tech University, Sophie Perkins said she participates in numerous charitable organizations, including the March of Dimes and American Cancer Society. She said she and Kasandra Perkins were involved in charity endeavors together, and said her cousin would want her to raise Zoey.

She said Zoey lives along with her at her home in Austin, and she has a stable career.

Dr. Carrie Contey, a psychologist, human developmental specialist and parent coach, testified Tuesday morning. She said she met with both Shepherd and Sophie Perkins, and said both would provide an ideal home for the baby.

But Contey said it is important for a baby to develop a secure bond with a primary caregiver so that she doesn't develop attachment issues. She told Judge Daniel Wheeler that it would not be in Zoey's best interest for her to spend six months with her paternal family and six months with her maternal family.

The judge will only decide custody and will not work out the probate issues of Belcher and Kasandra Perkins' estates.

Zoey will have access to money from the NFL, including a life insurance policy. In addition, the owners of the Chiefs, the Hunt family, set up a trust fund for Zoey. A third party is expected to handle the money on Zoey's behalf, not her guardian.

Cameras were banned from the courtroom, but reporters were allowed to attend.

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