Report for 2007 Minot murder case suggests alternate suspect's DNA wasn't tested, defense says
Prosecutors who alleged Nichole Rice killed her roommate said the man's sample was not found at the crime scene.
MINOT — A lawyer for a Minot woman accused of killing her roommate more than 15 years ago has asked prosecutors to produce evidence that a Montana man has been ruled out as an alternative suspect.
Bismarck defense attorney Philip Becher filed the motion to compel on Monday, March 20, on behalf of Nichole Erin Rice. The 35-year-old woman was charged in March 2022 with murder in connection to the 2007 death of 18-year-old Anita Knutson.
If convicted, Rice faces life in prison without parole. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
Prosecutors said the Montana man's DNA was tested and excluded by the North Dakota State Crime Lab as a possible contributor to samples taken from the crime scene, according to Becher's court filing. A DNA report filed as an exhibit with Becher's motion did not name the man among DNA samples that were tested.
"The DNA reports that have so far been produced to the defense do not indicate that (the man's) DNA was tested," Becher wrote in the court filing.
Knutson was a Minot State University student when she was found dead June 4, 2007, face down in her bed at her and Rice’s northwest Minot apartment. She died from two stab wounds, likely one or two days before she was found, according to a criminal complaint filed against Rice.
A pocket knife with dried blood was found in the locked apartment, the complaint said. The window was open, and the screen was cut in an apparent attempt to make the killing look like a break-in, police said. Nothing of value was taken from the room, according to the complaint.
Police didn’t have enough evidence to arrest Rice for Knutson’s death until after Rice’s ex-boyfriend told investigators in March 2022 that Rice admitted to killing Knutson, the complaint said. Rice got “belligerently drunk” in 2008 or 2009 before telling the ex she “did it,” court documents alleged.
Rice told investigators that she and Knutson were best friends, but others claimed there was a lot of tension between the two, according to court documents. One person heard Rice tell Knutson, “One way or another, I’m going to get you out of this house,” the complaint said.
Rice was working as a civilian at Minot Air Force Base when she was arrested. Her father bonded her out of jail with $120,000.
Becher suggested in court that a Montana man who was a person of interest in the case and matched physical characteristics of a man reportedly seen running from the area of the crime scene could have killed Knutson. The Forum is not naming the man because he has not been charged.
Prosecutors said the man was ruled out as a suspect, but Becher said in his motion to compel that the man remains a “highly viable alternative suspect.”
All male DNA samples that were sent to the state crime lab for testing were not found on the knife found in Rice and Knutson's apartment, Minot Police Detective Mikali Talbott said in a September preliminary hearing. Rice's DNA was the only sample that couldn't be excluded, Talbott said.
Prosecutors told Becher after the hearing that the DNA report had been revised to include statements that the man's DNA was not found at the crime scene, according to the defense attorney's court filing. The State Crime Lab told Becher on Nov. 7 that it had not revised the DNA report, the court filing said.
Becher said in court documents he had not received a revised report as of March 20. He requested a hearing regarding his motion.
Ward County State’s Attorney Rozanna Larson told The Forum she recused herself from the case and could not comment on it. Assistant State’s Attorney Tiffany Sorgen, who is the lead prosecutor in the case, was in trial Tuesday, March 28, and was unavailable for comment.