(NEW YORK) — The grandparents of a 4-month old girl, orphaned when her football player-father Jovan Belcher killed her mother and himself, are locked in a bitter custody dispute over the tiny heiress set to inherit nearly $3 million.
Tiny Zoey Belcher is entitled to millions in life insurance, annual payments and retirement funds from the NFL as the sole heir to Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs who killed himself and the girl’s mother, girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, in December.
A lawyer for Perkins’ family said the family was seeking permanent custody of the girl.
“Personally, I don’t know why we would want to reward Jovan’s — the murderer’s — family with giving them the baby, but that’s not a legal argument,” lawyer Jon Michal Franks told ABC News.
The baby was initially in the custody of Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd. Shepherd alleges that she gave the baby to Perkins’ family because they wanted to take the infant with them to attend Perkins’ funeral in Texas. Once there the girl’s maternal grandparents cut off all contact with Belcher’s family, according to her lawyer.
“Cheryl agreed to temporarily allow the maternal relatives [to] take Zoey to Texas for her mother’s funeral,” Shepherd’s lawyer, Gretchen M. Gold, wrote in an email to the Jackson County, Mo., probate commissioner last week. “The maternal relatives have now ceased communicating with Cheryl Shepherd and have refused to return her calls or return the child to her care.”
Franks disputes that, saying Shepherd willingly brought and left the baby with her maternal family in Texas.
The families are now locked in a custody dispute in two different states, with Belcher’s family suing in Missouri and Perkins’ family seeking custody in Texas.
“Cheryl left the baby [in Texas] voluntarily after Kasandra’s memorial. There was no baby snatching at all,” Franks said.
The Missouri court will hear arguments on Friday. A court date in Texas has been set for Jan. 22.
Franks said Belcher’s mother was initially given custody following the murder-suicide because she was the only next-of-kin at the scene and someone had to immediately take care of the child.
“My impression is that the family here in Texas may have a more stable environment, and be better suited to take care of the child,” said Franks.
Under the current NFL players’ contract, Zoey’s estate or guardian is entitled to more than $100,000 for the next five years and around $50,000 until she turns 18 or until 23 if she attends college. She also stands to inherit a $600,000 life insurance payout, plus nearly $1 million through her father’s NFL retirement account.
On Dec. 1, 2012, Belcher, who played for the Chiefs in every game since 2009, shot Perkins multiple times at their home. He then drove to the team’s stadium, where he killed himself in front of his coaches and police.
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