A Texas woman was awarded custody Thursday of her 9-month-old orphaned cousin whose mother was killed by former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher late last year before he turned the gun on himself.
Jackson County Probate Commissioner Daniel Wheeler issued an order Thursday granting custody of Zoey Perkins to Sophie Perkins of Pflugerville, Texas, saying she was more suited than Belcher’s mother to be the baby’s guardian.
Zoey was orphaned on the morning of Dec. 1 when her father, Belcher, fatally shot her mother, Kasandra Perkins, in the couple’s Kansas City home. Belcher then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of coaches and the team’s general manager as they pleaded with him to put the gun down.
During a three-day hearing last week, Sophie Perkins and Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd of West Babylon, N.Y., each argued that she would be the best guardian for the girl. Perkins’ lawyers attacked Shepherd’s smoking habit and the number of police calls to her home over the years, while Shepherd’s attorneys criticized Perkins for putting the girl in daycare 45 hours a week while she worked.
Perkins, who was Kasandra Perkins’ first cousin, is the sister of Whitney Golden Charles, whose husband is Chiefs All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles.
"Out of these bad circumstances, this was the best result for Zoey," said Mark Roberts, Perkins’ attorney. "Both sides love Zoey; both sides were operating with her best interest in mind. The court had a difficult decision to make, but we think it was the right decision."
Shepherd’s attorneys did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Other than some trips to New York to spend time with Shepherd, Zoey has mostly stayed with Perkins in Texas since the shooting. The time the girl spent bonding with Perkins played a role in Wheeler’s decision, he wrote, as did the police calls to Shepherd’s home.
"There have been numerous police reports made from Ms. Cheryl Shepherd’s home during the past 20 years," Wheeler wrote. "While not controlling, and while not making Ms. Shepherd’s home inappropriate to raise Minor, the Court concludes that this is evidence of Ms. Sophie Perkins’ home being more stable than Ms. Shepherd’s home, and this favors the appointment of Ms. Perkins as guardian."
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.
Commerce Trust Co. has been appointed as conservator of Zoey’s estate and will handle her finances.