North Dakota Woman Accused Of Killing Her College Roommate After Their Friendship Soured
“It just took a little bit of refocusing and a lot of paying attention to the fine details,” police said of making an arrest for the murder of Anita Knutson following years of investigation.
A North Dakota college student was found brutally murdered in her off-campus apartment, but it would take almost 15 years for police to arrest a suspect in the case, a person who had been on their radar all along, officials said.
On June 4, 2007, Gordon and Sharon Knutson grew concerned because they hadn’t heard from their 18-year-old daughter Anita Knutson in several days.
Gordon drove to Anita’s Minot apartment, where he spotted his daughter’s vehicle in her driveway. The door to Anita’s residence was locked, and when he peered through her bedroom window, he saw his oldest daughter face down and covered with a coat on her blood-soaked mattress.
Recalling what happened in an interview with Crime Watch Daily, Gordon said when he reached through the window and touched Anita, he noticed that “her body was cold, so I knew she was dead.”
A knife police determined to be the murder weapon was recovered from the scene, and detectives noted a sliced screen from the victim’s bedroom window was on the ground outside after someone removed it.
Lacking evidence at the time, detectives were unable to take any suspects into custody and the case eventually grew cold. That changed, however, in March 2022 when authorities arrested now-35-year-old Nichole Rice at her civilian job at Minot Air Force Base and charged her with her former roommate’s murder, KFYR-TV reported.
“Anita was scared of her,” the victim’s mother, Sharon, told Crime Watch Daily about Rice.
Sharon also claimed in the interview that Rice sent threatening messages and Anita, who had just completed her first year studying elementary education at Minot State University, was going to move out of the apartment the two shared.
“My heart goes out to the family,” Minot Police Chief John Klug said at a press conference to announce Rice’s arrest, NBC News reported. “I wish we could have solved this sooner, but at the same time, I’m glad to say that we have the person responsible for the murder of Anita Knutson in custody.”
“I think the turning point in this case was really just trying to pull all of that information together and put it in an order that made sense,” Klug said. “…It just took a little bit of refocusing and a lot of paying attention to the fine details.”
According to Klug, so much time had passed since the murder that “most of the detectives who worked the original scene and investigation have retired,” but, he added, “We have not forgotten about this case.”
In 2018, Minot Police officer Mikali Talbott began looking into Anita’s killing. According to the Minot Daily News, Talbott testified at a preliminary hearing in September 2022 that Rice clearly had access to the crime scene since the suspect lived with the victim.
The officer also pointed out discrepancies in Rice’s alibi and noted witnesses claimed the two childhood friends’ relationship had soured over multiple issues leading up to the murder, including complaints about a fish tank and alarm clock.
Around a month before she died, Anita put a lock on her bedroom door, the officer noted in court.
Officer Talbott claimed during the hearing that a man — recently identified in a police affidavit as someone Rice dated in 2008 and 2009 — told investigators he heard the suspect allegedly confess to the crime after she got “belligerently drunk” at a party, The Washington Post reported.
The defense then raised the possibility there was another person responsible for the slaying. Rice’s lawyer questioned Talbott at the hearing about a man arrested for breaking into area homes while armed with a knife in the timeframe of Anita’s murder and introduced statements from a witness indicating the man was spotted running in the victim’s neighborhood.
According to the Minot Daily News, the defense bolstered the theory by pointing out a police report that stated the man told the arresting officer: “I’ve been in a lot of houses here.”
On Feb. 8, a pretrial hearing that was originally scheduled for next month was pushed back to June 14 so the prosecution and defense teams could have more time to prepare their cases.
Rice, now 35, has been free on bond since shortly after her arrest.
For more on this case, stream ID's Still A Mystery: "In Her Own Home" on discovery+.