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Fla. police obtain Amazon Alexa recordings in death case

Investigators believe the device may have recorded the July death of Silvia Galva

Rafael Olmeda
Sun Sentinel

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Police in Hallandale Beach believe there may have been a witness to the July murder of Silvia Galva, and “her” name was Alexa.

Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, like other smart devices, are constantly listening for a “wake word” that signals when its user wants something — to hear a song, have a question answered, or order a product. But police think the device, nicknamed “Alexa” after its wake word, might have heard and recorded more than a shopping order.

According to a search warrant, investigators want to know what the popular voice-controlled smart speakers overheard during a fatal altercation between Galva, 32, and her boyfriend, Adam Reechard Crespo, 43, on July 12.

Crespo told police that he and Galva had gotten into an argument after a night out and he was trying to drag her off his bed when she grabbed onto a spear with a 12-inch blade. As he continued to pull, he said, he heard the spear snap — when he turned around, the blade of the spear was in Galva’s chest. He pulled it out, he said, hoping the injury was “not too bad.”

Crespo is charged with murder.

A month after Galva’s death, police obtained a search warrant for anything recorded by the two devices that were found in the apartment between July 11 at 12 a.m. and July 12 at 11:59 p.m.

“It is believed that evidence of crimes, audio recordings capturing the attack on victim Silvia Crespo that occurred in the main bedroom ... may be found on the server maintained by or for Amazon,” police wrote in their probable cause statement seeking the warrant.

Whether police stumbled across a silent witness or are overestimating the eavesdropping capacity of smart technology remains to be seen. Amazon turned over multiple recordings, but neither the company, police, nor the State Attorney’s Office will say at this point what was on them.

“We did receive recordings, and we are in the process of analyzing the information that was sent to us,” said Hallandale Beach Police Department spokesman Sgt. Pedro Abut.

Amazon spokesman Leigh Nakanishi said the Echo devices only record short bursts of statements and are not eavesdropping on private conversations. “By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word,” he said.

“Alexa” is the default word that activates the device, though consumers can change it to “Amazon, Computer, or Echo.”

Only after the wake word is uttered does the device begin to listen and record, Nakanishi said. “No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word.”

Unless someone uttered the wake word, or something close to it, Amazon’s Echo Dot would reveal no more information than any other piece of furniture in the bedroom, according to the company’s website.

Echo devices also contain a “mute” button that blocks the device from hearing anything, including the wake word.

Crespo, who is free on a $65,000 bond, was last in court Oct. 10. His next date has not been set. Efforts to reach his attorney Thursday were not successful.