Arrest made in 15-year-old murder case

Rice, Nichole Erin

The 2007 slaying of 18-year-old Minot State University student Anita Knutson had long been an unsolved cold case when Minot police announced in March that they had arrested Knutson’s one-time roommate for the murder.

Nichole Erin Rice, formerly known by her maiden name, Nichole Erin Thomas, is now 35 and had been working as a civilian employee at the Minot Air Force Base when she was arrested. She was 19 at the time she was rooming with Knutson at 2420 4th Street NW, No. 5.

According to a police affidavit, Knutson was found stabbed to death in the apartment on June 4, 2007, after her father went to check on her when she failed to respond to his calls and did not show up for work. A single window in her bedroom was wide open and missing a screen and a pocketknife with dried blood was found on the bed.

Rice, her roommate, was not home when Knutson was discovered. According to the police affidavit, she had given contradictory accounts about her whereabouts on different occasions. One witness said Rice had been at a bar in Ruso on the night of June 2 and the early morning hours of June 3, 2007, and told one witness that she had to go back to her apartment in Minot to get some clothes. Rice also told authorities she had been staying at her parents’ house from June 2 until the morning of June 4.

Authorities allege that Rice and Knutson did not get along and that Rice had allegedly admitted to someone in 2008 or 2009 when she was drunk that “she did it.”

Anita Knutson

Police reportedly reinterviewed several witnesses during 2022 and Rice was then charged with the Class AA felony murder.

At a press conference in March, Minot Police Chief John Klug said with the recent help of “Cold Justice” and new detectives at the Minot Police Department, Carman Asham and Mikali Talbott, taking on the investigation, along with Capt. Dale Plessas providing some recent coordination help, everything fell into place to obtain an arrest warrant.

At a preliminary hearing in September, the prosecution said DNA testing was done on the pocket knife. The sample was too small to be tested against the law enforcement database, but could be analyzed with other samples side by side. The sample was tested against a number of persons of interest, but Rice was the only individual who could not be excluded by investigators. A defense attorney suggested that an alternative suspect who had been arrested for breaking into homes armed with a knife in the days after the murder might be the actual killer. North Central District Court Judge Richard Hagar found probable cause for the charge and Rice pleaded not guilty. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 1, 2023.

Rice is out on bond that was set at $120,000 cash or $250,000 surety.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today