Whitesburg KY

District judge says she lacks power to order mental exam

A Redfox man charged with murdering a Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. doctor who refused to give him pain pills will have to wait a little while longer to hear if he will be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Attorneys for John C. Combs, 46, of 1266 Breedings Creek Road, Redfox, asked Perry District Judge Leigh Anne Stephens to order the evaluation during a hearing in Hazard on Dec. 15, at which time she set a hearing for Dec. 21 to hear Combs’s motion for a competency evaluation. On Dec. 18, Stephens canceled the Dec. 21 hearing because she doesn’t have jurisdiction to order a psychiatric screening. Based on Kentucky statutes she can’t rule on mental competency because Combs is charged with a felony and only trial judges have that ability.

Stephens told the two attorneys for Combs, Jim Baechtold and Michael Eubanks of Richmond, on Dec. 15 that until Combs is officially indicted their motion is premature. Stephens said “I’m still at odds with this.”

Combs is accused of murdering Dr. Dennis S. Sandlin at MCHC’s Leatherwood/ Blackey Medical Clinic on Dec. 8 after Sandlin, 57, told Combs he would have to take a urine test before his request for pain medication could be addressed. The charges against Combs were referred to a Perry County grand jury after Baechtold and Eubanks waived Combs’s appearance at a preliminary hearing which had been scheduled for Dec. 15.

Although the Perry County grand jury isn’t expected to consider the charges against Combs until sometime in January at the earliest, Baechtold told reporters Dec. 15 that he believes Combs has already been convicted in the court of public opinion.

“Our client, of course, is not doing well right now,” said Baechtold. “It’s our opinion that he has already been to some extent tried and convicted by the media without his story coming out in this case.”

Dr. Sandlin died at the clinic in Cornettsville, near the Letcher-Perry county line, about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 9 after he was shot in the head.

Sources familiar with the case told The Mountain
that Combs had gone to the clinic seeking pain pills earlier that day and became angry when Dr. Sandlin asked him to submit to a urinalysis. Combs left the clinic after the initial confrontation with Sandlin, but returned a short time later armed with a handgun. Sources told The Eagle
that when Combs returned to the clinic he walked straight to where Sandlin was standing at a nurses’ station, said to him, “You don’t deserve to live,” then shot him at pointblank range.

Combs was arrested after he returned to a small one-room house in which he was living behind his parents’ house at Redfox, near the Four Star Village pay lake.

According to the motion filed by Baechtold and Eubanks, Combs “suffers from severe anxiety, with suicidal tendencies, and chronic pain.”

The attorneys, who said Combs “suffers from ‘polysubstance’ abuse,” said in their motion that “at the time of the incident, (Combs) may have been taking more medication than he should have, leading to the charges against him.”

The motion said Combs’s “past behavior demonstrates a history of severe anxiety, chronic pain, and addiction to narcotic medication. As an adult, (Combs) has been diagnosed and treated for mental conditions requiring the use of psychotropic medications.”

Baechtold said he could not comment on whether Combs was high on drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting, but said “there is a pending drug test that is out there.”

Being locked up in jail hasn’t kept Combs from getting into more trouble since his arrest on the murder charge.

On Dec. 13, five days after he was charged with killing Sandlin, Combs was charged with two counts of third-degree assault and two counts of menacing after he allegedly assaulted two deputy jailers on Dec. 13 at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard.

According to a police citation, the deputies were attempting to feed Combs at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday when he acted “disorderly” by cursing and screaming, “I will kill you all.”

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