Man pleads guilty to 2009 slaying of Perry County doctor

bestep@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2013 

Photo by Thinkstockphoto.com

A man charged in the December 2009 slaying of a Perry County doctor pleaded guilty to murder on Thursday.

The plea includes a recommended sentence of 40 years for John Carles Combs, who shot Dr. Dennis Sandlin at the Leatherwood/Blackey Medical Clinic at Cornettsville.

Combs, of Knott County, who is in his late 40s, is to be sentenced in October.

Police said at the time of the shooting that Combs went to the clinic seeking a prescription for painkillers but got angry when he was asked to take a urine test first. Some doctors ask patients to take such tests in an effort to make sure they are not abusing drugs.

Police said Combs left, then came back about two hours later with a pistol and shot Sandlin, 57, in the head as he wrote on a chart outside an exam room.

Combs was arrested the same day. His attorneys said in court hearings that he has mental problems, but after Combs was evaluated, a judge ruled he was competent to stand trial.

Former Commonwealth's Attorney Teresa C. Reed had filed notice she would seek the death penalty, but she left office before the case was resolved.

Commonwealth's Attorney John Hansen did not return a call seeking comment.

One of Combs' attorneys, Jim Baechtold of Richmond, said he could not comment because there is a gag order in the case.

Sandlin's sister, Leila Smith, also said she could not comment on the plea deal because of the order.

Combs had a troubled history before the shooting, but he had no convictions for a violent crime. Divorce records outlined a history of drug use and a car crash in 1991 that his mother suggested might have led to painkiller addiction.

Authorities said at the time of the murder that Combs might have visited several other clinics seeking pills in the days before he shot Sandlin.

Family members and friends said Sandlin was a devoted physician who passed up chances for high-paying jobs elsewhere in order to provide treatment for people in his rural, mountainous community.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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