KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- 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 day care 45 hours a week while she worked.
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.
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.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press