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Arson suspect pleads not guilty
Blaze appeared to be hate crime
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Forsyth County News
A woman accused of burning her own house down in January and trying to make it look like a hate crime has pleaded not guilty to arson and drug charges.

Pamela Morrow Graf, 48, appeared Wednesday in Forsyth County Superior Court, where she answered to one count of arson first degree, possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana less than an ounce.

Authorities say Graf and her boyfriend, Steven Edward Strobel of Barrow County, torched her Lanier Drive home on Jan. 18 in an insurance scam.
Strobel also pleaded not guilty Wednesday to arson.

Graf, who remains in custody at the Forsyth County Detention Center, was arrested Feb. 3 on drug charges after authorities searched her vehicle and hotel room.

A few days later, she was charged with arson in connection with the blaze at her home near Lake Lanier in northeastern Forsyth.

Also Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley denied State Farm’s request to keep the defense from seeing the insurance company’s investigative file.

Laura Murtha, attorney for State Farm, said Graf filed an insurance claim after the blaze. Murtha said the company’s investigation is ongoing and separate from the local fire department’s probe.

She said turning over the information could violate attorney/client privilege and that Graf and her father have already been provided with copies of statements they made to the company.

Murtha also said Graf’s home was in foreclosure at the time of the blaze.

Graf’s attorney, Parker McFarland, said State Farm’s request was disingenuous.

“I find it interesting that ... they’ve decided to make a payout of Ms. Graf’s mortage,” McFarland said.

He said Graf faces the possibility of a 20-year prison sentence and she “has a substantial need” for the information State Farm has collected.

McFarland said none of the interviews conducted by the company are in the district attorney’s investigative file.

“We are entitled to present a complete defense,” he said.

Strobel’s attorney, Brian Daly, agreed with McFarland that State Farm’s investigations are not part of the prosecution’s file.

Bagley said the defense’s rights to discovery in a criminal case outweigh State Farm’s desire to keep the files confidential until the case is closed.

He said he would review State Farm’s file and exclude any information protected by attorney/client privilege before copies are made available to the defense.

The Forsyth County District Attorney’s office also requested a copy of the file.

The fire investigation unfolded over several weeks last winter.

Graf claimed she and Strobel left Jan. 16 for the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. Her home burned two days later.

She also said a racial slur and phrase “your black boy will die,” which was spray-painted on a fence along her property, was a hate crime.

She maintained she was targeted because of her support for President Barack Obama.

Graf was released from jail March 2 after posting $88,242 bond. She was also required to wear an ankle monitor.

What followed was a series of incidents — and arrests — in north and middle Georgia that culminated with Graf turning up at a hospital in Commerce, off Interstate 85 in northeast Georgia.

She was treated for an apparent drug overdose and has been in custody since.

Strobel has been free on $27,610 bond since Feb. 22.