Belcher's relatives seek child custody

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The mother of a Kansas City Chiefs player who killed his girlfriend and himself late last year, leaving his baby daughter an orphan, said in court Tuesday that relatives from both sides of the family should be involved in the girl's life.

Cheryl Shepherd of West Babylon, N.Y., testified at hearings to decide who will get custody of the 9-month-old child of Chiefs player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. Perkins' cousin, Sophie Perkins of Pflugerville, Texas, also is seeking custody of the girl.

Shepherd was staying with her son and his girlfriend at the couple's Kansas City home at time of the Dec. 1 shootings, and she testified Tuesday that she had a close, loving relationship with Kasandra Perkins.

Shepherd initially also sought to become conservator of her son's estate, which would put her in charge of possibly millions of dollars, but family members on both sides agreed to have a third party handle the finances.

That left Zoey's custody the only thing at stake in the hearings, which began Tuesday morning and are scheduled for three days.

Before Shepherd took the stand, Carrie Contey, a human development specialist from Austin, Texas, testified that it would not be healthy for custody of the girl to be split equally between family members who live 1,700 miles apart.

She said research indicates that babies need a primary caregiver with whom to build a secure attachment and that having several different people caring for the girl for long periods of time could stifle that kind of bonding.

"That seems like a lot of stress to put on a little person," she said.

Shepherd was the only other person on the witness stand Tuesday in Jackson County Probate Court and is expected to resume testimony Wednesday.

She said it would be in Zoey's best interest to move to her New York home, where she has at least three dozen relatives living within 20 minutes of her home.

Shepherd described how she had become close to Kasandra Perkins over the four years she was dating Belcher, with the couple frequently visiting New York and Shepherd coming to Kansas City for every Chiefs home game.

She said she thought Sophie Perkins also would be able to provide a loving home for Zoey, and despite what Contey said about splitting time between primary caregivers, she wouldn't have a problem with sharing custody.

Asked why she should be granted primary custody, Shepherd said it's because she is the girl's grandmother.

"To show her and tell her all the good things that I know of her mother and father," Shepherd said. "That's my grandbaby. The love -- and she's so full of love -- you just love her and love her some more."

Zoey is 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 will also help care for the child. As Belcher's beneficiary, his daughter's estate will also 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 shooting occurred at the couple's home as they argued over "one or both of them going out as in to a club or partying," according to police records. Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where he shot himself while team officials pleaded with him to put down his gun.

Zoey has been staying with Sophie Perkins in Texas most of the time since the shooting, and Shepherd said she has made several trips to see the girl.

Probate commissioner Daniel Wheeler said won't immediately issue a ruling after testimony concludes.