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Plea deal struck in gangster's killing

LAWRENCEVILLE — A Lawrenceville man avoided a potential life sentence when he pleaded guilty in court Monday to fatally shooting a high-ranking gang member in 2008, authorities said.

His murder trial set to begin this week, Brandon Mullins instead pleaded guilty to a lesser count of voluntary manslaughter in Gwinnett Superior Court. Judge Debra Turner imposed a sentence of 18 years in custody, said Assistant District Attorney Stephen Fern.

Mullins faced charges of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and weapons possession. The March 27 killing happened in the parking lot of a gas station at Collins Hill and Hurricane Shoals roads in Lawrenceville.

Mullins, then 19, shot Rafael “8 Ball” Watson after they quarreled over a $250 drug debt that Mullins was tardy in paying, police said at the time.

Watson was no stranger to police. In an earlier hearing, a detective described him as a notorious drug dealer and upper-tier member of a street gang called 2-4-3, a Lawrenceville set of the nationwide Bloods.

Mullins and his mother were walking to a nearby beauty salon that day, never expecting to see Watson, police said.

When Watson confronted Mullins about the money, Mullins opened fire into his Dodge Charger. Two of the four shots fired hit Watson, who managed to drive a short distance before striking a utility truck.

One of the bullets hit a major artery; Watson later bled to death at Gwinnett Medical Center.

Mullins and two others, including his mother, said they thought Watson had reached for a gun before Mullins opened fire.