A Winder man will serve 10 years in prison for helping his former girlfriend torch her northeastern Forsyth home as part of an alleged insurance scam.
Late Thursday, a jury convicted Steven Edward Strobel, 47, of one count of first-degree arson in connection with the Jan. 18, 2009, fire that destroyed the Lanier Drive home of Pamela Morrow Graf.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley denied the defense’s request for first offender status and handed down a 20-year sentence, half of which will be served on probation.
He must also pay a $2,000 fine. Restitution will be determined at a later date.
Graf has pleaded not guilty to the arson charge, as well as one count each of possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana less than an ounce. Her case has not gone to trial.
After the blaze, Graf told authorities she and Strobel left Jan. 16, 2009, for the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., and were not at the house when it burned down.
Graf, 48, also maintained that she was targeted because of her support of President Barack Obama and that the spray-painting of a racial slur and phrase on a fence along her property was a hate crime.
Testimony in Strobel’s case began Tuesday, after a jury of six women and eight men was impaneled.
After the prosecution rested its case Thursday morning, Bagley denied a motion from Strobel’s attorney, Brian Daly of Savannah, to dismiss the case.
Strobel was the lone witness in his defense, testifying that he had lied to investigators, but also told the truth.
Forsyth County Chief Assistant District Attorney Sandy Partridge and Assistant District Attorney James Dunn handled the prosecution.
During lengthy and often contentious testimony, Strobel said the initial plan was to go to Washington, D.C., but he and Graf never made it there.
He also testified that Graf told Steve Anderson, the fire department’s lead investigator in the case, they did make it there.
Strobel said the couple had argued about why he should corroborate her story.
Wednesday, witnesses called by the prosecution testified that many of Graf’s personal belongings, including family photos and home movies, furniture, tax documents and clothing, were found after the blaze in two storage units Strobel had paid for in Barrow County.
The witnesses, which included fire investigators and two of Graf’s three children, also said some items found at Strobel’s house belonged to Graf.
In one of the recorded interviews, Strobel implicated Graf in the blaze. Thursday, he said he did so only because he was “extremely mad” at her.
Prior to Strobel’s testimony Thursday, the jury heard from Rodney Wilson, a claim representative for State Farm Insurance, and Timothy Eckel, a financial consultant, about Graf’s home insurance policy and her economic situation.
On Wednesday, Anderson testified that he was called out to Graf’s house about 5:15 a.m. Jan. 18, 2009. Firefighters were still working to extinguish the flames when he arrived.
Anderson said he interviewed Strobel three times after the fire. At first, he said, Strobel stuck to the story that the couple went to Washington, D.C.