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Judge not swayed by woman's plea
Convicted arsonist sought an early release
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Forsyth County News

Two years ago, Pamela Morrow Graf was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison.

Friday, she learned she would remain there, despite asking Forsyth County Superior Court Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley to reconsider her situation.

Graf was convicted in April 2010 of first-degree arson for a January 2009 fire that destroyed her home near Lake Lanier in northeastern Forsyth.

Graf had legal counsel present but addressed the court herself Friday. In her request, she cited a new law, telling Bagley she was a nonviolent offender taking up much-needed space for the county’s most violent criminals.

She asked for a sentence modification that would release her from prison immediately, and place her under three years of probation.

The law, which takes effect today, does aim to reduce the number of prisoners by allowing judges to forego jail sentences for those convicted of minor drug and other nonviolent offenses.

Bagley, however, said it’s not a requirement and judges continue to have “total and full discretion in sentencing.”

“The court is entitled to take into consideration all of the facts,” the judge said. “I believe my sentence was fair.”

Bagley said he would let the state parole board decide whether Graf’s time in jail should be shortened.

He also rehashed several details of the trial, including how Graf used racial epithets to enhance her initial story that she had been the victim of arson because of her support for President Barack Obama.

He recounted in court how Graf had collected memorable belongings for her children prior to setting the fire, but their rooms and clothing were still destroyed.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Sandra Partridge also reminded Bagley that just recently Graf had asked her son to take time out of his high school graduation celebration to support her.

“It was a horrific, horrible thing to do to your child,” said Partridge, adding that Graf’s selfishness in that situation is “the ultimate in how she has not changed at all.”

Graf countered that she was “a wonderful mother, no matter what [Partridge] wants you to think.”

She also talked about her actions since the arson, which she said was fueled by cocaine use.

According to Graf, she’s been in recovery for 1,202 days. Before the fire, she went back to school to get her real estate license. Then “the lake dried up and the market crashed and so did I.”

Graf, who was 47 at the time of the fire, lost “every last thing in my life, including my children and my home and my self-respect.” Going through AA, she said, has helped her see the clarity in her actions.

Graf maintained she was ashamed and remorseful for her actions, but had received too harsh of a sentence.

Partridge said remorse involves more than admitting guilt. It’s also “accepting the punishment that goes with it.”