INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - A petition filed by the mother of a Kansas City Chiefs player who killed his girlfriend before taking his own life went in front of a judge at a brief court hearing Friday morning.
Cheryl Shepherd, mother of Jovan Belcher, is seeking custody of 4-month-old Zoey Belcher and to be named administrator of her son's estate. Relatives of Perkins have also filed a petition in Texas seeking custody.
At the hearing, the judge ruled that a court-appointed guardian will investigate both families. After the investigation, both sides can apply for guardianship. The guardian ad litem will look into the criminal and legal background of all applicants, as well as the homes, neighborhoods and school system Zoey would be placed in.
Belcher fatally shot Zoey's mother, Kasandra Perkins, at their Kansas City home Dec. 1 before killing himself in front of coaches and Chiefs officials outside Arrowhead Stadium.
Shepherd, of West Babylon, N.Y., took temporary custody of Zoey after the shooting. According to lawyer Gretchen M. Gold, who is representing Shepherd, Zoey is now in Texas with Perkins' family. Gold explained that Shepherd agreed to temporarily allow the maternal relatives to take Zoey to Texas for her mother's funeral, but the child had not been returned to her as of Friday's hearing.
Both families are scheduled back in court in two weeks.
Local family practice attorney Howard Lotven of Kansas City weighed in on the case, explaining that it could take upwards to a year for the court to grant custody.
Lotven says both the maternal and paternal relatives will have equal opportunity to apply for guardianship, despite Belcher's actions.
"Just because the father took those actions of killing the mother then himself doesn't mean that the paternal grandmother is any less qualified to be a parent than the maternal grandmother and grandfather or any other relatives," Lotven explained.
Zoey's guardians won't need to worry about finding money to raise the child. Between the NFL's collective bargaining agreement and Belcher's insurance and retirement funds, Zoey could be eligible to receive up to $3 million from now until the time she graduates from college.
Lotven says the court will closely oversee that money.
"The guardian each year will have to report back to the court telling them what happened with that money, what it was used for and how it was used for to make sure it's properly used for the child and not being taken," he explained.
Unlike in a paternity or divorce case, the court is unable to mandate therapy for Zoey. However, Lotven believes the paternal or maternal relatives could have the upper hand in the case if they are able to demonstrate they have a plan to deal with Zoey's potential emotional and mental problems stemming from this trauma. Lotven explained that Zoey's multi-million dollar estate can be used for therapy purposes.