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Hearing to decide custody of Zoey Belcher starts today

Updated: 2013-06-11T14:20:44Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Zoey Michelle Belcher turns 9 months old Tuesday. Also scheduled Tuesday: testimony that will determine which relative will be appointed her guardian and the conservator of her estate.

Zoey lost her parents Dec. 1, when her father, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, shot her mother, Kasandra Perkins, at their home in the 5400 block of Crysler Avenue . Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself in the parking lot of the team’s practice facility.

Family members of both parents have filed competing motions to care for Zoey.

Cheryl Shepherd of West Babylon, N.Y., Belcher’s mother, is seeking to be named Zoey’s guardian and conservator. So is Sophie Perkins, a maternal cousin of Kasandra Perkins who lives in Pflugerville, Texas, a suburb of Austin.

Perkins’ court papers include requests that letters of guardianship and conservatorship also be issued to Rebecca Gonzales and Darryl Perkins, the parents of Sophie Perkins, and Angela Moore, a sister of Kasandra Perkins.

Tensions among the relatives emerged in court filings earlier this year.

In a January email to Jackson County court officials, a Kansas City lawyer representing Shepherd maintained that Zoey was being kept in Texas against Shepherd’s wishes. Shepherd had moved into the Crysler Avenue home about two weeks before the shootings.

“The Kansas City Police Department turned over temporary custody to Cheryl following the death of her (Zoey’s) parents and pending the filing of a guardianship action,” Gretchen Gold wrote.

“Cheryl agreed to temporarily allow the maternal relatives (to) take Zoey to Texas for her mother’s funeral. The maternal relatives have now ceased communicating with Cheryl Shepherd and have refused to return her calls or return the child to her care.”

The Perkins family members, Gold added, filed documents in Tarrant County, Texas, applying for guardianship even though they were aware that Sheperd was preparing to file similar documents in Jackson County. On Dec. 14, Shepherd filed a petition with Jackson County probate court, asking that she be appointed Zoey’s guardian and the conservator of her estate.

In January, a telephone conference between Jackson County and Tarrant County officials determined that Missouri was Zoey’s “home state.”

Both Shepherd and Perkins have submitted lists of potential witnesses for the hearing.

Shepherd’s list has 10 witness, including herself. She will describe her West Babylon neighborhood and the schools Zoey would attend if she lived there. Perkins’ list includes 11 witnesses, including herself. She will “testify as to why Sophie should be guardian and as a fact witness as to interactions with Cheryl.”

Perkins’ list of witnesses includes Carrie Contey, a psychologist and parenting expert who has appeared often on television. The list also refers to an unnamed records custodian for the Suffolk County, N.Y., Police Department who apparently will testify about more than 60 of the department’s police reports dating from 1997 through 2012. West Babylon is in Suffolk County.

Money to care for Zoey could come from a trust funded by the Hunt family, who own the Chiefs, the team’s coaches, players and employees and contributions from the public.

Zoey’s estate or guardian also would receive more than $1 million under terms of the National Football League’s collective-bargaining agreement.

The girl stands to receive $108,000 annually over the next four years, $48,000 in the fifth year and then $52,000 each year until age 18. She would continue to receive that amount until age 23 if she attends college.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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