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Ralph David Abernathy III, a former state senator and son of a civil rights leader, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for billing $5,700 in phony expenses to the state and asking a witness to help him cover it up.

Abernathy, 40, the son and namesake of one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s top lieutenants, kissed his mother before sheriff's deputies took him from the courtroom.

Abernathy was indicted in 1998 on 35 counts accusing him of stealing more than $13,000. After one trial ended with a hung jury, he was convicted last month of 18 counts for taking $5,700, committing forgery, violating his oath of office and offering a witness $2,700.

Abernathy claimed the bogus expenses between 1994 and 1997 and said much of the money went to pay aides for legislative services. He was convicted of forging the aides' names on letters claiming they had received the money.

Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell imposed the sentence, which also included six years of probation, despite pleas for leniency from Abernathy's mother and the Rev. Hosea Williams, a civil rights leader and close friend of Abernathy's late father.

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