Combs sentenced to 40 years for doctor’s murder
Cris Ritchie — Editor
HAZARD—The Knott County man who fatally shot a well known Perry County physician nearly four years ago learned his own fate this week as he was sentenced to serve the next four decades in prison.
John C. Combs was ushered into the Perry County Circuit Courtroom in shackles on Thursday as several members of the late Dr. Dennis Sandlin’s family looked on from across the room. Combs sat at the defense table, stolid and quietly as Judge John David Caudill presided over brief procedural matters before allowing comments.
Danielle Sandlin, Dr. Dennis Sandlin’s daughter, approached the podium where she made her first public comments about the case since Caudill issued a gag order in 2010. Combs’s sentencing represents a new chapter, she said, but it does not represent an end as she and the rest of her family will have to live with what happened to her father for the rest of their lives.
She made note of the fact that Combs has never shown remorse or taken responsibility for his actions that took the life of her father in December 2009, when Combs entered the Leatherwood-Blackey Clinic and shot Dr. Sandlin after Sandlin reportedly refused to issue a prescription for narcotics.
“You walked into a nonprofit clinic, supposedly to get treatment from a doctor who would pull his own wallet out to pay for a patient’s medication, and you say that he made you angry because he said you didn’t have insurance,” Sandlin said. “And we know that’s probably not exactly what happened. Mr. Combs, we’re not here because of anything my father did, we’re not here because of anything my family did. We’re here because of you and your actions. You chose to murder Dr. Dennis Sandlin, and I’m not sure if he hurt your feelings or wounded your ego, but it’s because of you that my family is suffering, Dr. Sandlin’s family is suffering, as I’m sure your family is suffering, and I hope one day you will take responsibility for what you did and stop blaming everyone and everything else.”
Sandlin said her family has received love and support from the community, and will continue to do so. And while Combs, now at age 49, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, she assured him that Dr. Sandlin’s family will be present for every parole hearing.
“I hope you live every day thinking of my father’s face before you pulled that trigger,” she added, “because he deserved to live.”
Judge Caudill proceeded to issue a sentence in the case, following the plea agreement entered in July that called for 40 years to serve on one count of murder. Subsequent counts of tampering with physical evidence, burglary, and terroristic threatening were dismissed. He will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Caudill also took the time to make his own comments on the case, agreeing that Combs has shown no emotional response while in court, and only claimed any type of responsibility during comments he made to probation officers.
“Specifically, I recall the day he took the plea,” Caudill said. “He blamed everybody but himself that day. He has shown absolutely no remorse whatsoever in court.”
Caudill added Combs has attempted to blame Dr. Sandlin’s murder on others, but by his own actions, Combs has affected several people, from the Sandlin family to his own. He said he hopes the state parole board takes into account Combs’s failure to take accountability.
“To my eyes, you have never shown the first remorse for what you did, and I think if the system works this is a life sentence, and I hope the system does work in your case,” Caudill said. “I hope you don’t make parole, because you’ve shown no reason for it to be granted.”
Combs’s only verbal output during the hearing was a request to speak, which Caudill denied.
Caudill ordered Combs to be transported to a state prison as soon as possible. He is currently being held at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard.
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