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Man Serving Life For Double Murders Released After Two Suspects Arrested

January 15, 1993

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ A mentally handicapped man convicted of a double murder nine years ago was released from prison Thursday after authorities arrested two suspects in the case.

Paul Hamwi, 47, an Aspen, Colo., building contractor, was being held for extradition to Fort Lauderdale, where he faces first-degree murder charges in the 1983 deaths of his 38-year-old wife, Susan Bolender Hamwi, and their 18- month daughter, Shane.

Also arrested Wednesday in the alleged conspiracy was Paul Michael Serio, 46, a substitute schoolteacher in White Town, Texas.

On Thursday night, John Purvis, a 52-year-old neighbor of the victims who was serving a life sentence for the murders, was released from the Broward County Jail. A judge signed an order allowing Purvis to go free, pending a hearing to vacate his sentence.

″I feel pretty good right now,″ Purvis said.

Purvis, whose family members say is a schizophrenic, at one time confessed to murdering Mrs. Hamwi, but later professed his innocence. He was convicted of first- and second-degree murder and sexual battery in 1985.

″They just made me confess and badgered me and everything and just got something out of me that wasn’t really true at all,″ Purvis said.

Purvis’ attorney, Steven Wisotsky, said his client was told that ″if he confessed to these crimes then he could go home to his mother, that’s on the record.″

Homicide officers admit he was wrongly sent to prison.

″A mistake obviously was made,″ Fort Lauderdale detective Bruce Smith said Thursday. ″I wish those things hadn’t happened. I wish he hadn’t given a statement against himself.″

Authorities said Mrs. Hamwi was stabbed to death and raped. The handle of a butcher knife was broken off in her chest, and a cord was wrapped around her neck, investigators said. The baby was found in her crib, dead of dehydration.

At the time, the Hamwis were separated and planning to divorce. Police in Fort Lauderdale said Hamwi was seeking to avoid paying his wife $180,000 as part of a divorce settlement.

Police in Florida said the case that sent Purvis to prison began unraveling recently when detectives interviewed an associate of Hamwi, who implicated himself, Hamwi and Serio in the murders.

Bob Beckett, 54, of Nevada, was identified as a co-conspirator, but was granted immunity after agreeing to cooperate. Police say Hamwi paid Beckett and Serio $14,000 to kill Hamwi’s wife.

At Purvis’ trial, police said they found no physical evidence linking Purvis to the murders. Prosecutors, however, claimed Purvis’ mother helped her son clean up the murder scene to make it look like a robbery.

The prosecution built its case around testimony from a neighbor who told the jury she heard Purvis’ voice inside the Hamwi home on the day of the murder.

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