A Missouri court has appointed a lawyer to protect the interests of the 4-month-old daughter of the late Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher as her grandparents argue over custody.
Belcher fatally shot the child's mother, Kasandra Perkins, on Dec. 1 in their Kansas City home, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of then coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs.
Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, had been living with the couple for about two weeks and was in the home when her son killed Perkins.
Shepherd received temporary custody of the couple's daughter, Zoey, immediately after the shootings and filed a petition in mid-December asking to be appointed as Zoey's guardian and conservator of her estate, which could be worth millions of dollars.
Shepherd, of West Babylon, N.Y., also filed a second petition seeking to be named administrator of her son's estate.
But Perkins' family also wants custody of the baby and apparently have her in their care following Perkins' funeral. Shepherd claims she allowed them to have the baby so that she could attend the funerals in Texas, but that the baby's maternal family has refused to return Zoey to her care.
Friday morning, Shepherd sat silently between her two attorneys in a Jackson County courtroom as probate commissioner Daniel Wheeler addressed the petitions. The hearing lasted less than 20 minutes.
Wheeler changed the status of the custody petition to "contested" because Zoey's maternal grandparents and other family members in Texas have filed a petition in that state to be Zoey's legal guardians.
He also ordered the appointment of a guardian ad litem — an attorney who represents the interests of minor children — and set a Dec. 25 hearing on Shepherd's petition to take over her son's estate. The attorney for Belcher will recommend to the judge who be best qualified to raise the little girl and help determine whether Shepherd should oversee her son's estate.
Guardian ad litems are traditionally appointed to represent children in contested legal matters.
Zoey is reportedly staying with relatives in the Austin area where the baby's maternal grandfather lives.
In addition to the well-being of the child, millions of dollars are at stake in the custody battle.
Zoey's estate or guardian will receive more than $1 million under terms of 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 can keep receiving that amount until she is 23 if she attends college.
A trust funded by the Hunt family, which owns the Chiefs, along with team coaches, players, employees and contributions from the public, will help care for the child. Also, Belcher's beneficiary will receive $600,000 in life insurance, plus $200,000 for each credited season — Belcher was in his fourth season at the time of his death — and $100,000 in a retirement account.
Shepherd's attorney, Gretchen Gold, declined to answer questions after the hearing and said her client didn't have any comments, either.
Zoey's maternal grandparents, Rebecca Anne Gonzalez and Darryl Perkins, and other Texas relatives have filed a lawsuit seeking temporary custody of the girl, that her residence be in Tarrant County, Texas, and that a guardian ad litem be appointed.
A Fort Worth judge has scheduled a Jan. 22 hearing in that lawsuit. The judge will conduct a conference Jan. 17 with his Missouri counterpart and attorneys for Zoey's maternal and paternal grandparents to discuss whether Texas or Missouri has jurisdiction in the case.
Zoey Belcher was born Sept. 11 in the Kansas City area.
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