Judge to make decision in Belcher custody fight - KCTV5

Judge appoints Kasandra Perkins' cousin as guardian of Zoey Belcher

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A Jackson County judge urged both sides vying for custody of the daughter of a Kansas City Chiefs football player who fatally shot the girl's mother before killing himself to reach a consensus, or he'll be forced to issue his own ruling. A Jackson County judge urged both sides vying for custody of the daughter of a Kansas City Chiefs football player who fatally shot the girl's mother before killing himself to reach a consensus, or he'll be forced to issue his own ruling.

A judge has given custody of 9-month-old Zoey Belcher to Kasandra Perkins' cousin.

On Thursday, the judge decided Sophie D. Perkins of Pflugerville, TX, would have control over Zoey's care. He also appointed Scott R. Manuel, Esq. as limited conservator and Commerce Trust Company as conservator of the little girl's estate.

In December, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Zoey's mother, Kasandra Perkins, on Dec. 1 in their Kansas City home. He then killed himself in front of coaches and the team's general manager as they pleaded with him to put the gun down.

Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd of West Babylon, NY, is seeking custody of her granddaughter, but Perkins' relatives want custody in Texas.

Last week, a Jackson County probate judge urged both sides vying for custody of Zoey.

At the end of three days of testimony in a custody fight for the infant, commissioner Daniel Wheeler urged both sides to come together and figure out what's in the girl's best interest by the end of the day Wednesday.

If that didn't happen, Wheeler said he will be forced to make a decision in the tragic case.

"It's best for the family to resolve this dispute," Wheeler said. "I want to give the parties one last chance."

Shepherd testified last week that she has more than three dozen relatives who live within 20 minutes of her home, so she would have plenty of help bringing up the girl.

Perkins' cousin, Sophie Perkins, also wanted custody of the baby, who has spent a majority of her time since being orphaned at Perkins' home in Pflugerville, TX, near Austin. Sophie Perkins essentially had primary custody of the little girl since the shooting.

Perkins testified that she and Kasandra Perkins were close growing up, and that she's the best person to raise Zoey. Sophie Perkins' sister, Whitney Charles - wife of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles - told the court her sister was a mentor for her and Kasandra Perkins growing up and would be the best choice to raise the girl.

Attorneys took turns targeting foibles of the opposing petitioners, including questioning both about how many times police had been called to their homes and whether any family members had criminal records. Perkins' attorneys made an issue out of Shepherd's smoking habit, while Shepherd's lawyers questioned whether it was good for the girl to spend 45 hours a week in daycare while Perkins works.

Mark Styles, who served as guardian ad litem for Zoey, said last week in his opening testimony that he believed both Perkins and Shepherd would provide a good home for the girl.

One of the factors the court considered were the respective ages of Perkins and Shepherd. While not an overriding factor, the judge noted witnesses expressed concern about her grandmother keeping up with Zoey as she grows up. When Zoey turns 18, Shepherd will be 71-years-old while Perkins will be 53.

The judgement also noted numerous police reports to Shepherd's home over the past 20 years, which they used to decide Perkins was a better choice for custody.

The court also found evidence of past drug use by what was called a significant family member in the Perkins' family who has had contact with Zoey, but the person has not had a relapse and the judge felt Sophie Perkins could limit or cut off contact between the individual and child if necessary.

While Sophie Perkins said she holds no grudge towards Belcher's family, she did admit in a deposition that she does harbor ill feelings over the incident and has and will receive counseling because of the tragedy.

After the court's decision Perkins' co-counsel, Mark Roberts, said the win is one thing, but now her real work begins.

"Well I think it does. I think that realization is hitting her. She now has Zoey to raise and she takes that very seriously," Roberts said. "She's obviously happy that was the court's decision, but she knows she has a lot of work to do."

A visitation schedule will be worked out so Belcher's family is involved in Zoey's life.

Zoey stands to receive more than $1 million under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, including $108,000 annually over the next four years, $48,000 in the fifth year and $52,000 each year until she turns 18. She will continue to receive that amount until she is 23 if she attends college.

A trust funded with money from the Chiefs owners, coaches, players, employees and the public also will help care for the child. As Belcher's beneficiary, his daughter's estate also will receive $600,000 from a life insurance policy, $200,000 for each of his four seasons with the Chiefs and $100,000 from a retirement account.

The two families agreed more than a month ago to have a conservator ad litem appointed to handle the money. Commerce Bank was picked to serve that function and will control the funds, a move that put the focus of this week's hearings on the girl's well being rather than how much her guardian will receive on her behalf.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and the Associated Press.  All rights reserved.

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