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Witness recalls ‘devastating’ moment lawyer pulled gun in law firm shooting

Updated April 19, 2024 - 7:16 pm

When Lisa Rasmussen pulled into the parking lot of Prince Law Group, she knew the deposition would be intense.

She had no idea it would turn deadly.

“I wasn’t thinking about this ending in any kind of violence; let alone the way it resulted,” said Rasmussen, who survived the April 8 shooting at the law firm that left three dead.

The gunman, attorney Joseph Houston, was representing his son Dylan in a bitter custody battle when he fatally shot his former daughter-in-law Ashley Prince, 30, and her new husband, 57-year-old Dennis Prince, who acted as her lawyer. Houston, 77, then killed himself.

The morning of the crime, Rasmussen was representing Joe Houston’s wife, Katherine “Kelly” Houston, who was set to be deposed. She joined the case in January as a neutral party.

“I learned right away that there was a lot of animosity and hatred,” said Rasmussen, who reviewed the filings and various accusations from both sides.

She recounted the events of the shooting to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

‘For the sake of the kids’

Just before 10 a.m., Rasmussen met the couple by their car. Katherine Houston was nervous about being deposed, but Joe Houston seemed jovial.

“Nothing indicated to me that morning that he was going to snap,” Rasmussen said.

Depositions were par for the course in Joe Houston’s job, despite this being a deeply personal case. He wore an untucked dress shirt, Rasmussen recalled. She did not know he was armed, though she learned later that he had a concealed carry permit.

Dennis Prince’s law firm was one of many suites in the large Summerlin office building. Inside the glass conference room, nobody exchanged the niceties typical at the beginning of a deposition. There was no “good morning,” no offer to get anyone water or to point toward the bathroom.

Instead, the court reporter swore in Katherine Houston.

Her husband of 42 years asked: Is there hope to resolve any of these issues, for the sake of the kids?

Instead of responding, Dennis Prince began asking questions. There was no prelude to his interrogation, Rasmussen recalled. His first question was about Dylan’s drinking.

Shots fired

After the third question, which Rasmussen didn’t find particularly triggering, Rasmussen heard a noise she can’t describe. Like a bomb, a bang that vibrated through her head.

She instantly looked to her right, at Joe Houston sitting next to her.

All she saw was the metallic gun poking through his sleeve. Her experience in criminal law told her the square barrel meant it was a semi-automatic. She told police it was a .42-caliber.

Joe Houston then stood up and decidedly pointed the gun across the table.

“That’s when I was crystal clear on what was happening,” Rasmussen said.

All she remembers was silence. She didn’t see what had happened to Ashley Prince or Dennis Prince. The court reporter leaped to the door. Then, Rasmussen jumped up and grabbed her client, who was frozen in her seat.

“Maybe I should have told him to stop,” she said later. “But your instinct is just to get out. It’s gunfire. You can’t argue with gunfire.

Frantic, Rasmussen pounded on the double doors of an office suite nearby.

“Please help us! Call 911!” she remembers yelling.

Katherine Houston stumbled as her attorney led her down the corridor, repeating: “Why did he do that?”

Rasmussen said she heard a scream. She can’t remember if it came before or after the punctuating sounds of more gunshots.

Eventually, a man in a nearby office suite grabbed the two women and led them to safety.

They all sat in horror.

Waiting for answers

It was hours before the details of what happened became known.

Police eventually cleared the office building, leading survivors out at gunpoint with their hands in the air, a tactic used in active shooter situations.

As she waited with her client in the parking lot, Rasmussen noticed the line of ambulances on the street. They had not gone in to rescue anybody. Rasmussen repeatedly turned to the officer who was watching over them. Her client was in tears.

“Can you please tell her if her husband is dead?” she asked. “She needs to know.”

It wasn’t until late afternoon that they learned three people had died. Just before midnight, Rasmussen retrieved her iPad, purse and other personal items.

Her court papers had been covered in blood.

‘Devastating day’

“It was a really devastating day,” Rasmussen said. “The whole scene was surreal.”

The Houstons are grieving all the lives lost and trying to wrap their heads around how this could have happened, Rasmussen said.

She doesn’t know if Joe Houston planned the shooting. But if he did, some things wouldn’t make sense, Rasmussen said. Like the fact that Joe Houston asked Dennis Prince not to bring Ashley Prince to the deposition. And when the Houstons entered the conference room, they wanted to sit on the other side of the table, which was farther away from the exit. Dennis had insisted they move; he didn’t want his back to the door.

Rasmussen said she hopes that there can be adjustments made in the legal community to create more civility among parties in such emotional cases.

“I understand that some people really need family representation because they don’t have other resources,” she said. “But I think that’s a conversation we need to keep having, because this was particularly toxic.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

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