Near the three-hour mark of her testimony, Cheryl Shepherd reached for a box of tissues.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
The question: Why did she want to be named guardian of her granddaughter, Zoey Michelle Belcher?
“Just to show her and tell her all the good things that I know of her mother and her father,” Shepherd said, wiping her eyes.
Shepherd’s testimony dominated the first day of a scheduled three-day guardianship hearing for Zoey, the infant orphaned after her father, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, shot and killed her mother, Kasandra Perkins, and then himself, on Dec. 1.
Shepherd, who is Belcher’s mother, lives in West Babylon, N.Y. Both she and Sophie Perkins, a maternal cousin of Kasandra Perkins who lives near Austin, Texas, have asked to be named Zoey’s guardian.
Both also had petitioned to serve as conservator of Belcher’s estate. But Jackson County Probate Commissioner Daniel Wheeler announced before testimony began that both parties had agreed that the estate will be administered by a third party.
Then followed close to six hours of testimony heard by those who filled every seat in Wheeler’s courtroom. Most of the dialogue — depending upon who was doing the asking — concerned what a large, loving family Zoey would be a part of if Shepherd were named guardian, or how Shepherd was leaving out some important details of her family life.
To Gretchen Gold, a lawyer representing her, Shepherd described how she had outfitted a bedroom, next to her own in her Long Island house, in the same giraffe decor that the child had known at her Kansas City home, “because I want her to be comfortable.”
Shepherd added that her neighborhood was free of violence and gangs but did concede that police officers had visited her home in the past.
Some of those visits, she said, occurred because her daughters had made some “poor choices” in their boyfriends and needed police assistance during what she described as “domestic violence” episodes.
Other emergency calls, she said, were more routine, such as when a raccoon had threatened her or when a brother cooking hot dogs had turned on the stove too high and firefighters had to respond.
Social services agency representatives also were familiar with her address, Shepherd said
But that, she added, was because she had adopted two young boys that a cousin could not properly rear. Authorities had checked out her background to their satisfaction on that occasion, Shepherd said, as well as the time she took in a neighborhood teenager who had delivered a child and had been keeping the baby in a closet.
But Mark Roberts, representing Sophie Perkins and her family, asked Shepherd about other matters of her home life.
He produced a photograph that he said depicted Shepherd sitting inside her home near an ashtray. “You would agree that secondhand smoke is bad for everybody, and that would include Zoey?” Roberts asked.
Shepherd said that she had smoked since she was 16 years old but never inside her home.
Roberts then asked Shepherd to read aloud two Facebook postings that included what he considered inappropriate language even when, during a recent deposition, Shepherd had indicated to him that she was not an Internet expert.
“Is this the language that you would expose Zoey to?” Roberts asked.
“Of course not,” Shepherd replied.
Carrie Contey, a human development specialist and parenting coach from Austin, Texas, stressed during 90 minutes of earlier testimony that Zoey is entering a critical stage of development and would most benefit from having a primary caregiver, as opposed to being split between family members almost 2,000 miles apart.
“I cannot in good conscience recommend a 50-50 relationship,” Contey said.
Contey described how in March she had met with both Perkins and Shepherd individually.
“They are both equipped and capable,” Contey said.
But she stressed the “real necessity and benefits of (Zoey) having consistent care so she can grow up feeling safe and secure.”
Mark Styles, a Kansas City lawyer who is serving as guardian ad litem for Zoey, said the child has been living in Texas in recent months, but has been brought to Kansas City for the guardianship hearing. The child turned 9 months old on Tuesday.
Wheeler said Tuesday that he would not announce an immediate ruling. Testimony is to resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.