close
close

The trial of a Minot woman accused of killing her roommate almost 20 years ago is to be moved – InForum

MINOT — The trial of a woman accused of murdering her roommate nearly 20 years ago in Minot will be moved to another city.

On Friday, June 7, Ward County Judge Richard Hagar ordered a change of venue in the murder trial of 36-year-old Nichole Erin Rice of Minot. This means her trial will not take place in Ward County, but in another county district court.

Court staff are working to move the hearing, which was scheduled to begin in mid-July. The hearing will be postponed until a new venue is selected.

Anita Knutson.jpg

Anita Knutson

Contributed / In memory of Anita Knutson Group

Rice is accused of murdering 18-year-old Anita Knutson in early June 2007. If found guilty, she could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison without parole.

Knutson, a Minot State University student and Rice’s roommate, was found dead with stab wounds on June 4, 2007, in her bed in their Minot home.

According to police, the door to the house was locked. The glass in Knutson’s room window was cut, but officers say this was done to make the killing look like a burglary.

Nothing of value was taken from the bedroom, but a pocket knife with dried blood was found near Knutson, according to court documents.

Police arrested Rice in early 2022, saying there was insufficient evidence to arrest a suspect by then. Court documents cited her 2008 or 2009 murder confession to her ex-boyfriend, as well as reports of tension between Knutson and Rice.

Rice, who was working as a civilian at Minot Air Force Base at the time of her arrest, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. She claimed she was with her family the weekend Knutson was killed, though police dispute this alibi.

The defense claims the Montana man is responsible for Knutson’s death. Court documents filed by the defense show that a man matching his appearance was seen fleeing the scene, according to defense documents.

More information about crimes and courts

Both prosecutors and the defense asked for the trial to be moved to another district. In court documents, lawyers involved in the case expressed “serious concerns about the ability to obtain a fair and impartial jury in Ward County.”

Citing questionnaires sent to potential jurors, one-third of 120 respondents said they believed Rice was guilty. Last year, the defense used a Facebook poll to ask people whether they believed Rice was guilty, resulting in an order of silence in the case.

The case records show that one-third of juror questionnaire respondents also said they had “potentially problematic opinions or knowledge” about the case.

This could prevent them from considering only the facts and evidence presented in court.

“The parties agree that … there is widespread bias against (Rice) in Ward County, which makes it impossible to select a fair and impartial jury in Ward County,” the court filing said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten has been a journalist in North Dakota since 2011. She joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. Readers can contact her at 701-241-5417 or [email protected].