By BILL DRAPER, Associated Press
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri court will appoint a lawyer to protect the interests of the 4-month-old daughter of the late Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher as her grandparents argue over custody.
Belcher fatally shot the child's mother, Kasandra Perkins, on Dec. 1 in their Kansas City home, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of coaches and the team's general manager. Belcher's mother, Cheryl Shepherd, had been living with the couple for about two weeks and was in the home when her son killed Perkins.
Shepherd received temporary custody of Belcher's daughter, Zoey, soon after the shootings and filed a petition in mid-December asking to be appointed as Zoey's guardian and conservator of her estate, which could be worth millions of dollars.
Shepherd, of West Babylon, N.Y., also filed a second petition seeking to be named administrator of her son's estate.
Friday morning, she sat silently between her two attorneys in a Jackson County courtroom as probate commissioner Daniel Wheeler addressed the petitions.
Wheeler changed the status of the custody petition to "contested" because Zoey's maternal grandparents and other family members in Texas have filed a petition in that state to be Zoey's legal guardians.
He also ordered the appointment of a guardian ad litem — an attorney who represents the interests of minor children — and set a Dec. 25 hearing on Shepherd's petition to take over her son's estate.
The Ford Worth Star-Telegram reported Friday that Zoey is staying with relatives in Austin, Texas.
In addition to the well-being of the child, millions of dollars are at stake in the custody battle.
Zoey's estate or guardian will receive more than $1 million under terms of 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 can keep receiving that amount until she is 23 if she attends college.
A trust funded by the Hunt family, which owns the Chiefs, along with team coaches, players, employees and contributions from the public, will help care for the child. Also, Belcher's beneficiary will receive $600,000 in life insurance, plus $200,000 for each credited season — Belcher was in his fourth season at the time of his death — and $100,000 in a retirement account.
Shepherd's attorney, Gretchen Gold, declined to answer questions after the hearing and said her client didn't have any comments, either.
Zoey's maternal grandparents, Rebecca Anne Gonzalez and Darryl Perkins, and other Texas relatives have filed a lawsuit seeking temporary custody of the girl, that her residence be in Tarrant County, Texas, and that a guardian ad litem be appointed.
A Fort Worth judge has scheduled a Jan. 22 hearing in that lawsuit. The judge will conduct a conference Jan. 17 with his Jackson County, Mo., counterpart and attorneys for Zoey's maternal and paternal grandparents to discuss whether Texas or Missouri has jurisdiction in the case.
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