Combs pleads not guilty in shooting death of Perry County doctor

HAZARD — John Carles Combs pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges in the shooting death of Perry County doctor Dennis Sandlin.

Perry District Judge Leigh Anne Stephens granted an order to provide funds for expert assistance from a forensic psychologist and an order to draw a blood sample and test for controlled substances, according to court documents. A preliminary hearing was set for Tuesday.

Combs, 46, of Redfox in Knott County, is unemployed and was declared indigent, according to court records.

"The consequences for our client could be quite grave. It's imperative that we conduct a full investigation of everything that might be relevant to the case, and that includes his state of mind," Combs' attorney, Perry public defender Will Collins, said in a phone interview.

"This is always more complicated than it may seem at first," Collins said. He did not elaborate.

According to court documents filed in Fayette County, Combs, who lived in Lexington for several years, began having problems in the 1990s. He had his first run-in with the law then and, according to court documents, drug abuse was said to be a disruptive force in Combs' relationship with his daughter. He had an affinity for marijuana, which he started using as a teen, documents say.

On Tuesday, Combs was accused of killing Sandlin at the clinic after refusing to take a urine test as a requirement for being prescribed pain pills. Sandlin was shot in the head with a handgun while writing on a chart outside the clinic's exam rooms, the coroner said. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:53 p.m.

Combs was arrested at his home after state police were tipped off that he was wanted in Sandlin's death at Leatherwood/Blackey Medical Clinic in Cornettsville in Perry County.

Combs is in the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard under a $10 million cash bond as well as a $1,000 bond on a resisting-arrest charge in Knott County. The jailer declined to allow the Herald-Leader to request an interview with Combs on Wednesday afternoon.

Collins, Combs' attorney, said he had worked with Sand lin before and found him to be "a consummate professional."

"We grieve his loss," he said.

On Wednesday, Combs' neighbor said he was surprised to hear of the arrest and disappointed to think of what Combs is accused of doing.

"I knew him well, and he was never a rowdy boy. He was a good neighbor," Johnny Childers said.

Childers said Combs sometimes did odd jobs such as carpentry and pipe fitting to make a living.

Combs lives on property with his mother and other family members. On Wednesday afternoon, a man at Combs' mother's home said the family declined to comment.

Combs has one previous felony, according to statewide records. He was convicted in 1994 of second-degree sexual abuse of a 13-year-old relative. He lived for several years in Lexington and divorced in 1993.

According to divorce records, Combs' ex-wife, Sheila Combs, told a caseworker in 1993 that her husband had a good relationship with his then 4-year-old daughter, Tonya, "until John resumed not only using drugs, but abusing them, which caused great concern on the part of Sheila for Tonya's safety when she is with her father."

At one point, a chiropractor referred John Combs to Comprehensive Care for his drug use, but he did not continue going "because he feels he is the only one who can make the decision to quit smoking pot," according to the caseworker's report in the divorce records.

"John Combs does not deny that he uses marijuana and admits that he has done so since he was in his teens," the caseworker wrote. "It makes no difference that it is against the law; he continues to use drugs."

Combs also told the caseworker that a 1991 car accident left him with neck and back problems and that "he will have to live with this pain for the rest of his life," according to court documents.

In 1998, Sheila Combs was granted a domestic violence order against her ex-husband that was effective until May 21, 2001.

Funeral arrangements for Sandlin were pending at Maggard's Mountain View Chapel in Hazard.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader