By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Graf goes to prison, but damage done
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
There are laws on the books to protect individuals from having their reputations smeared. Statutes related to libel and slander provide legal protections against the general concept of “defamation of character.”

Unfortunately, communities don’t enjoy the legal protections provided individuals. If they did, prosecutors would have had additional charges to levy against Pam  Morrow Graf and her former boyfriend, Steven Edward Strobel.

We would not normally use this space to comment upon the trial and sentencing of arsonists and drug addicts. But Graf’s case is different, and deserves a final visit before she’s completely forgotten in one of our state prisons.

You remember the case: local woman and boyfriend go to Washington, D.C. for the innauguration of President Barack Obama, and while they are gone someone burns down her home and spray paints racial epithets on her property, apparently in retaliation for supporting the nation’s first black president.

The story got a lot of play in the media, and across the nation you could feel the pointing of accusatory fingers at bad old racist Forsyth County, Georgia.

In the days after the fire, Graf was more than willing to address the media and to make sure that everyone understood she was a victim of backwoods locals who couldn’t accept her progressive attitudes about race and politics.

Forsyth County was once again demonized across the country.

It was the sort of dramatic event that guaranteed a chapter in local civil rights lore.

Except it was all a lie.

Graf and her boyfriend burned down her house. There was never a racial angle to the crime at all. As proven in court, the arson was nothing more than a poorly planned attempt by a self-admitted alcoholic and drug addict to cash in on some insurance money.

Some saw the arson as a hate crime. Maybe it was. Maybe Graf so hated the community in which she lived as to wish it harm, though more likely she never considered the harm done to the county as she connived to enrich herself at the expense of others.

At the sentencing June 18, Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley, who presided over Graf’s trial and sentencing, noted that the “name of Forsyth County was run through the mud.”

And indeed it was, not that either Graf nor Strobel ever showed convincing signs of remorse for the damage done to the reputation of an entire community.

There aren’t any laws against defaming the character of a community. If there were, Bagley would have been justified in adding a few more years to the prison term given. For their roles in the sordid affair both Graf and Strobel will spend years in prison followed by lengthy probations.
Sad as their story might be, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them.