Rice files motion to dismiss case

Trial date still sought for accused Knutson murderer

Nichole Erin Rice

The Ward County Courthouse Room 301 in Minot was bursting at the seams late Thursday morning as the parties convened for a pre-trial hearing in the case of the woman charged with the 2007 murder of Anita Knutson.

With the families and supporters of both Knutson and that of her then roommate Nichole Erin Rice, 35, Minot, in attendance, North Central Judicial District Judge Richard Hagar initiated proceedings, asking both parties if the case would be moving to trial.

Rice’s attorney Philip Becher of the Sand Law Firm confirmed that he and Deputy States Attorney Tiffany Sorgen had agreed a trial date should be set, and they anticipated the parties would require three weeks to present their cases. Sorgen anticipated the state would be presenting testimony from around 20 witnesses, while Becher and the defense set their number at around 10 ,depending on various factors at trial. Sorgen also said she believed that four to five days could be required just to complete the selection of jurors.

No firm date was set for the trial, despite Hagar proposing a date sometime in March or April of next year. While Sorgen wasn’t optimistic that they’d be able to find an opening in the court and their personal calendars to make such a timeline work, Hagar stated he would push for it if necessary to secure a date. Becher shared with the court that whatever date is chosen, it takes into consideration the planting and harvesting seasons that would prevent Rice’s family, who are farmers, from attending.

Sorgen also raised a concern over the timeline, bringing the court’s attention to a series of filings made on Tuesday by the defense, introducing an alibi defense, a motion to dismiss and an expert witness in support of the motion.

The documents filed with the court indicate the motion to dismiss is concerned with DNA evidence presented at Rice’s preliminary hearing and testimony from then Minot Police Detective Mikali Talbott. Talbott had testified that only Rice’s DNA could not be excluded from a sample collected from a pocketknife believed to be the murder weapon. In the affidavit signed by the defense’s DNA expert Monte Miller, he claims the final DNA report referenced at the preliminary hearing by Talbott contradicted her own testimony and in actuality excluded Rice’s profile as a match for the DNA.

Becher’s motion concludes asking for the dismissal on the grounds that probable cause was allegedly established through the entering of a falsehood into the record. Becher said the DNA report had not been made available to the defense until after the preliminary hearing and cited this oversight as the predicate for the dismissal. Becher claimed the only objective evidence presented at the preliminary hearing was the DNA evidence in question, calling the rest of the state’s evidence as “subjective and highly speculative.”

Sorgen asked for more time than the allotted two weeks to respond to the motion to dismiss, citing other court obligations and an unrelated trial that will prevent her forming the state’s response in a timely manner. Hagar asked Sorgen to make her request in writing but stated there should be plenty of time for her to respond and for a hearing to be scheduled to rule on it before the proposed trial dates.

“I will do my best to accommodate your requests as to the farming and the family and the timeline for the response, but I will emphasize for you that it is a priority of the court and should be a priority for your calendars to make yourselves available for this,” Hagar said.


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