DNA testing, suspects highlight testimony at hearing for woman charged in Anita Knutson’s killing

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 5:42 PM CDT
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MINOT, N.D. (KMOT) - The woman charged in the 2007 killing of Minot State student Anita Knutson appeared in court Thursday morning, nearly six months after she was arrested in March.

Thirty-four-year-old Nichole Rice pleaded not guilty to a AA-felony murder charge.

Her plea came after a more than hour-long preliminary hearing.

Nichole Rice appeared in the Ward County Courthouse Thursday morning for her preliminary hearing, an appearance that’s been continued multiple times due to the volume of evidence in the case.

The court heard lengthy testimony from a Minot police detective as to evidence in the case. It’s really the first testimony in open court we’ve heard in the 15 years since Knutson was found killed.

Detective Mikali Talbott was the only person to testify at Thursday’s preliminary hearing, but she found herself on the stand for more than an hour.

Prosecutor Tiffany Sorgen questioning Talbott on the crime scene, and on Nichole.

Talbott, on DNA testing of the murder weapon: “All of the male profiles that were sent have been able to be excluded from the profiles developed from the knife. The only profile that cannot be excluded are DNA sample that has been submitted is Nichole’s.”

Sorgen: “So hers is the only one that cannot be excluded by the testing.:

Talbott: “To my knowledge, yes.”

“Over the investigation, Nichole’s statements have been inconsistent from the start, she had an extreme hatred towards her, she was trying to move out of the apartment..... I believe it was a staged crime scene... She had means, motive, and opportunity at that time,” said Talbott, when asked why Minot Police determined Rice as the killer.

Rice’s defense attorney Philip Becher raised questions on investigators considerations of another suspect named Devin Hall, who was arrested in the area around the time of Knutson’s death.

Becher: :Are you aware that the FBI profilers, after having been provided the entire file, up until 2009 when this meeting happened, that that was the conclusion they drew? That Devin Hall was the most likely suspect.... I don’t even see any even reference to Nichole as far as the FBI profilers were concerned, would that be fair to say?”

Talbott, referencing evidence: “I mean, for this paragraph, there’s nothing referencing Nichole.”

On cross, the state questioned Talbott on how investigators felt they had ruled Hall out as a suspect.

No trial dates have been set just yet in the case. Rice is scheduled to appear for a pretrial conference Nov. 16. She does face the possibility of life in prison without parole if she’s convicted on the double-A felony charge.