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Woman sentenced in arson
Court not swayed by family's testimony
Graf Sentenced 5 es
Pamela Graf talks to her attorney Parker McFarland before her sentence is read Friday afternoon in Forsyth County Superior Court. - photo by Emily Saunders

A woman convicted of first-degree arson in a January 2009 fire that destroyed her north Forsyth home will spend at least the next decade in prison.

Pamela Morrow Graf received a 30-year sentence on Friday, 20 years for the blaze and about 10 years on convictions for cocaine and marijuana possession.

She will serve the terms consecutively, spending 12 years in custody and eight years on probation.

Forsyth County Superior Court Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley also ordered Graf to pay $212,000 restitution to State Farm Insurance and about $18,000 in attorney fees.

In addition, she was fined $2,000 for the arson and $5,000 for the cocaine conviction. Graf has 30 days to appeal the matter.

Before Bagley issued the sentence, Graf spoke in her own defense, detailing her plans to get her life back in order.

She maintained her innocence in the arson, saying ex-boyfriend Steven Edward Strobel was deceptive and blaming him for evidence used against her.

Strobel is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his April 22 conviction of first-degree arson in the January 2009 blaze at 8075 Lanier Drive.

The couple claimed to have been en route to attend the presidential inauguration at the time of the fire, even suggesting that Graf had been targeted for her support of Barack Obama.

Friday, Graf said Strobel had lied in court and his actions took her away from her family.

“Your honor, you’ve got your arsonist. He’s across the street in jail,” she said of Strobel. “I’m standing her before you now as a recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic.”

“It’s time to reclaim and regain, rebuild my life. I can’t be at a lower point in my life.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney Sandy Partridge wasn’t moved by Graf’s words.

“She just stood here and bald-face lied to the court,” Partridge said. “She is an arsonist. She has been convicted of arson.”

Before the judge issued the sentence, two of Graf’s three children were called to the stand, both testifying that she had been supportive of them.

Graf’s oldest son said she was a “great mother.”

“She is an extremely loving person, very compassionate, loves her children with all her heart, would do anything for them and all of us miss her very much,” he said.

“She’s missed some turning points in all of our lives because of this and I just can't wait for the day that I can hug my mom again.”

Graf’s father, William Morrow, took the stand ahead of his grandchildren.

Morrow said Graf, whom he adopted when she was an infant, has had a traumatic life with a lot of  “highs and a lot of lows.”

“Her lifestyle was a lot less than I desired and we couldn’t turn it around,” he said. “It just seemed like she couldn’t get it together.

“I do feel like that she has changed, but I do think that she needs rehabilitation ... We just couldn’t get her to do it, and it's just a shame that this could have been prevented, I think.”

Rehabilitation became the theme during the hearing.

Graf, her son and father all pointed to her desire to build a career helping women like those she has met in jail.

Graf asked to go to some sort of residential rehabilitation, which could help her continue her nearly 500 days of sobriety, but also teach her how to help others.

“My serious goal is to rebuild my home as a recovery residence for women,” she said. “A phoenix out of the ashes will emerge bigger and better than before.

“The reason for all this destruction and tragedy is to rebuild something that this community ... can be proud of.”

Graf blamed media and Partridge for making her look like a monster, drug abuser and arsonist.

Partridge didn’t deny it.

“I say yes sir, she wasn’t made out to be. She is a drug-addicted arsonist and an incredibly selfish woman who does not really care about anything but herself,” Partridge said.

“She has forfeited her right to live in this community. She has forfeited her right to live like a regular citizen because of what she did, because of the choices she made and why she made them, which was all about money and drugs.”

Both Partridge and Bagley took offense to Graf’s initial claims that her home was burned down because of her support for Obama. At the site, racist graffiti was found spray-painted on a fence that bordered her property.

Graf's claims were of racism and Bagley said he was appalled that “the name of Forsyth County was run through the mud.”

“Forsyth County’s past was exploited by this defendant,” the judge said. "Since the marches of '87, other than this bogus event, I don’t know of any racial event that we’ve experienced here.

“I’m proud of the citizens of Forsyth County, that we welcome anyone into our community here, and I take great offense to the exploitation of this county in this crime.”