Members of both branches of Zoey Belcher’s family received a final opportunity Thursday to decide whether she will grow up in New York or Texas.
Jackson County Probate Commissioner Daniel Wheeler ended three days of testimony in the guardianship trial by inviting relatives to reach an accord.
“I think it’s best for the families to resolve the dispute,” he said.
If the disagreement continues, Wheeler added, he will issue a written decision as soon as next Thursday.
Cheryl Shepherd, mother of former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, and Sophie Perkins, a first cousin of Zoey’s late mother, Kasandra Perkins, have filed competing petitions to be named Zoey’s guardian.
Belcher fatally shot Perkins and then himself on Dec. 1.
Shepherd, of West Babylon, N.Y., and Perkins, of Pflugerville, Texas, both described the bedrooms they had prepared for Zoey since her parents’ deaths. Both also answered questions about how suitable a guardian they could be and whether some family members might represent a poor influence on Zoey or even a danger to her.
On Thursday, Perkins described how, shortly after the shootings, she and her sister, Whitney Charles, began to pack Zoey’s bedding, bedroom curtains and other belongings to ship them to Texas. Charles and her husband, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, paid the shipping costs, Perkins said.
“I wanted her (Zoey) to come back to a comfortable place,” Perkins said.
Meanwhile, a cousin went to Perkins’ house to begin to paint a room for Zoey, she said.
Perkins also described her version of a Dec. 2 conversation with Shepherd regarding Zoey’s future. Shepherd testified earlier this week that she believed Zoey was going to Texas only temporarily and that both branches would rear Zoey together.
Perkins didn’t see it that way.
“I told Cheryl that I wanted to bring Zoey back to Texas,” she testified. “Cheryl said that we needed to raise Zoey together. When she said that, I took it to mean me as the primary caregiver with unlimited visitation for family members.
“I have always commented to Cheryl that she was always welcome to come to Texas to visit Zoey whenever she wanted to.”
J. Bradley Leitch, a lawyer representing the Shepherd family, asked Perkins why she retained a lawyer within one week of taking Zoey to Texas but did not sign up for parenting classes until recently. Leitch also asked Perkins if she was concerned about Zoey spending any overnights with her grandfather, Darryl Perkins, given his history of alcohol and cocaine issues.
Perkins said she and Kasandra never would let Zoey around anyone, even relatives, if they believed they posed any danger.
Perkins conceded that even though Kasandra had told her of concerns with the cleanliness of Shepherd’s home, Kansas City attorney Mark Styles, appointed to represent Zoey’s interests, had told her that he had visited Shepherd’s home and had been satisfied that it was suitable.
“Does it appear that Cheryl is more trusting than you?” Leitch asked.
“It can appear that way,” Perkins answered.
Asked by Leitch if Perkins still harbored any ill will toward Shepherd’s family, given the events of Dec. 1, Perkins said she did not.
“I don’t necessarily hold a grudge against Cheryl,” Perkins said. “That’s not Cheryl’s fault. She didn’t commit a crime.”
Whitney Charles, meanwhile, testified that Kasandra Perkins had come to stay at her home in November after arguing with Jovan Belcher.
“He didn’t call that night,” Charles said. “That upset her even more, so she spent the night. He didn’t reach out to her the next day. That meant that this was more serious that just an argument.”
According to Charles, Perkins was concerned that Belcher would take Zoey.
She also expressed uneasiness about leaving Zoey with Shepherd. Perkins, Charles said, sometimes left Zoey in Shepherd’s care while she exercised with friends. Though those friends often went out to eat afterward, Perkins sometimes would not because she was anxious to get back to Zoey, Charles said.
In one instance, Charles said, Kasandra sent her a text that read, “That lady has my baby.”
Though a parenting coach testified earlier this week that both women are capable of serving as guardian, the expert added it would not be in Zoey’s best interest for the women to share custody on a 50-50 basis.
Neither Shepherd nor Sophie Perkins commented while leaving the Jackson Count Courthouse on Thursday.
Throughout the week, both Shepherd and Perkins were accompanied by large contingents of friends and family members who filled the ninth-floor courtroom. Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs attended the sessions but did not testify.
“I know this has been difficult for the families,” Wheeler said upon the trial’s conclusion.
“I can’t think of anything more important than a minor guardianship.”