KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A heartbreaking custody battle is playing out in a the Jackson County courtroom this week.
Which family will care for the daughter of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins? Their daughter, Zoey, was orphaned last December when the NFL linebacker killed Perkins in their home in Kansas City, and then turned a gun on himself in the parking lot of the Chiefs training facility at Arrowhead Stadium.
Zoey's guardian will get $3 million in funds from the NFL, life insurance, Belcher's property and a savings fund set up by the Hunt Foundation.
The judge made clear Tuesday that money has nothing to do with this custody case. Both families agreed Belcher's estate will be handled by a third party.
When it comes to Zoey, it appears what started as a sentiment of "we're in this together" quickly dissolved.
Jovan Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepard, took the stand for hours and described everything from her close relationship with Perkins to the trauma of the day the young woman was murdered.
In the days following the deaths, Shepard says she and Kasandra Perkins' cousin, Sophie Perkins, signed a temporary joint custody agreement they had written together. Sophie Perkins needed the agreement in order to take Zoey back to Kasandra's native Texas.
Shepard needed time to settle his son's affairs in Kansas City, and agreed to the arrangement.
But in the weeks following, Shepard said Perkins would not allow her to take Zoey at all, pending a custody agreement. Lawyers have been involved ever since.
Zoey does have her own representation.
A parenting expert also testified Tuesday morning that either family seems fit for guardianship but that joint custody is not in Zoey's best interest. Now is a crucial time for the child to bond with a primary caregiver.
The hearing started at 10 a.m. Tuesday. About 40 people were in attendance. Judge Daniel Wheeler said it could take up to three days for him to determine who is better suited to care for the 9-month-old child.
Dr. Carrie Contey, a human development specialist and parenting coach from Texas, testified the child needs constant care because she is at a critical age where she needs to bond with a caretaker.
For that reason, Contey told the judge she did not recommend a 50/50 custody split between the maternal and paternal family members. Contey met with Perkins and Shepherd and told the court she believes either one is suited to care for Zoey.
Sophie Perkins is also expected to take the stand during this case.