Cold case solved

Arrest made in Anita Knutson murder

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot Police Chief John Klug speaks at a news conference Wednesday regarding the arrest of a suspect in the 2007 murder of Anita Knutson.

A Minot woman was arrested Wednesday in the death of college student Anita Knutson after an intensive review of the 15-year-old cold case by the Minot Police Department.

At a news conference Wednesday, Police Chief John Klug announced that Nichole Rice, 34, had been arrested and charged with Class AA murder in the stabbing death of her former roommate. A Butte native and student at Minot State University, Knutson, 18, was found murdered in her northwest Minot apartment on June 4, 2007. The case captured national attention and billboards featuring Knutson had been posted around the area for years in an effort to assist in finding her killer.

Rice was taken into custody at 3:25 p.m. without incident at her workplace as a civilian on Minot Air Force Base. She is being held in the Ward County Jail.

“Although most of the detectives who worked the original scene and investigation have retired, we have not forgotten about this case,” Klug said. “We tried to actively investigate Anita’s case for the past few years, and finally, with the help of ‘Cold Justice,’ we were able to move forward and regain focus. Due to the resources, logistics, planning and experts they were able to provide, we were able to obtain an arrest warrant.”

“Cold Justice” is a television series featuring seasoned detectives who travel to small towns and dig into unsolved homicide cases. By working alongside local law enforcement, the “Cold Justice” team has successfully helped bring about a number of arrests and convictions.

Klug also highlighted the work of Minot Police Detectives Carman Asham and Mikali Talbott, who took the lead on the investigation, and Capt. Dale Plessas, who assisted in coordinating the moving parts in the past week.

“My heart goes out to the family. I wish we could have solved this sooner, but at the same time, I’m glad to say that we have a person responsible for the murder of Anita Knutson in custody,” he said.

Klug said Rice was always a person of interest, but there previously had not been evidence to arrest her. In the past, staffing and lack of resources interfered with giving the case the kind of attention necessary to achieve a breakthrough, he said.

“I think the turning point in this case was really just trying to pull all that information together and put it in an order that made sense. A lot of the information is information that we have. It just took a little bit of refocusing and a lot of paying attention to the fine details,” Klug said. “We knew that if we were going to put an effort into this, we were going to put it all forward at one time and not do little bits and pieces along the way.”

Klug was not at liberty to release specifics of the evidence that led to the arrest.

“A lot of it isn’t new information. There were a few details that came up, and over time, things start to develop,” he said. “We’ve turned over every leaf already. It was just a matter of putting all that information in front of new investigators and letting them do their work, and Detective Ashman and Talbott did that. They read every statement. They looked at every piece of evidence. They looked at every report that was done, and they refined that information down. It’s just a lot of time-consuming work and dedication to the community and to Anita and her family.”

Klug described the solving of the case as a relief.

“It was good to know that finally the one case that we’ve had hanging out there that we just could not get to a solution was finally over,” he said. “It’s unnerving to know that somebody is out there that murdered somebody. And in this case, there was not one person that had anything bad to say about Anita. So to me, this was a young girl with a great future that was taken away from her family way too soon.”

The Minot Police Department closed the books last May on another 15-year-old cold case when officers determined that 3-year-old Reachelle Smith, who disappeared on May 17, 2006, was murdered by Leigh Cowen, who had lived in the same house as the family. Cowen killed himself several days after Reachelle disappeared. Her body never was recovered.


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