- Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
In an odd coincidence, a 33-year-old suburban Boca Raton man who on Monday was sentenced to 12 years in prison shares a heritage of sorts with the 65-year-old bicyclist he was convicted of fatally injuring during a 2014 crash on Yamato Road.
Both Paul Maida and the late George Morreale were twins — and both were the good sons, often either overshadowed by or forced to clean up the messes of their troubled twin brothers, family members testified.
Maida’s twin, Nicholas, was constantly in trouble when the two brothers were growing up and is in federal prison on firearms charges, said their father, Paul Thomas Maida. Morreale, his family members said, spent much of his life trying to help his twin, who was unable to overcome the violence of the home they shared as boys.
The coincidence of being twins is just one of the twists of the case that confounded prosecutors for years, delaying justice for Morreale’s grieving family.
For more than 1½ years, Maida’s girlfriend was on house arrest, awaiting trial on a charge of DUI manslaughter in Morreale’s death, after telling Boca Raton police she was the one driving her Ford F-150 truck when it hit Morreale as he was out on his regular Sunday morning bike ride. But Bianca Fichtel eventually recanted and provided prosecutors with emails from Maida that they used in making the case that Fichtel and Maida had switched seats after the collision because Maida’s driver license had been suspended as a result of a 2012 drunk-driving conviction.
A jury in July convicted of Maida of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, driving on a suspended license and making a false report to police, but he continues to claim Fichtel was driving and is appealing his conviction. He was acquitted of a charge of DUI manslaughter. His blood-alcohol level wasn’t tested on the day of the crash because Fichtel had told police she was at the wheel.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton struggled with Fichtel’s duplicity in determining the proper sentence for Maida, who tearfully apologized to Morreale’s family. “She could have corrected this thing the next day or the day after,” Burton said. “She’s no angel.”
Assistant State Attorney Laura Laurie acknowledged the Fitchel’s behavior was inexplicable. But, she said, Maida’s decision to perpetuate the lie was worse.
“Someone who robs a family of justice and let’s someone else take the fall has zero moral character,” she said.
The sentence Burton was imposed was less than the 20 years Laurie sought and more than the 9½ years recommended by defense attorney Robert Resnick.
Morreale’s wife, daughter and son offered no opinion on how long they wanted Maida to remain behind bars. Instead, they spoke of the gaping hole that was left in their lives by Morreale’s death. A master carpenter who loved origami, God and his family, he was contemplating retirement when his life was cut short, they said.
“I still cry often. There’s a deep void in my life,” widow Lois Morreale said of her husband of 44 years. “I miss his smile. I miss his laugh. I miss his presence. I miss him more than words can describe.”
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors 250 pages of emails Maida and Fichtel exchanged while Fichtel was on house arrest. In many, Maida pledged to take responsibility for Morreale’s death. During closing arguments, Laurie described Fichtel as a mentally unstable, lovesick young woman whom Maida manipulated with empty promises.
On Monday, Laurie acknowledged that the case was perplexing. “You can’t rationalize irrational behavior,” she said.