Jury told of Boston bomber's bright childhood

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Defense Team Paints Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as Follower

(Reuters) - Convicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was once a bright, hardworking child who won the adoration of his teachers and classmates alike, his former instructors testified on Wednesday for defense attorneys trying to spare him the death penalty.

During the sentencing phase of Tsarnaev's trial, his lawyers have been trying to paint him as a mostly normal American kid who fell under the spell of his now-deceased older brother, ultimately joining him in the 2013 bombing of the world renowned race.

It was the worst attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11 2001.

Wednesday's testimony marked the first time Tsarnaev's lawyers focused testimony on him, instead of the brother, Tamerlan, a boxer turned aspiring jihadi who was killed after a shootout with police days after the bombing.

Tracey Gordon, who taught Tsarnaev in fifth and sixth grade at a Cambridge school, described him as an exceptionally intelligent child who easily mastered English after arriving in the United States from Russia and "was eager to learn whatever school had to offer."

26 PHOTOS
Boston Marathon bombing trial
See Gallery
Jury told of Boston bomber's bright childhood
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (L) is shown in a courtroom sketch next to Judge George O'Toole on the first day of jury selection at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts January 5, 2015. O'Toole on Monday began the process of selecting the jury that will hear the trial of Tsarnaev, telling the first of some 1,200 prospects to read no more news accounts about the deadly blasts. Tsarnaev could get the death penalty if convicted of killing three people and injuring more than 260 others by detonating a pair of homemade bombs placed amid a crowd of thousands of spectators at the race's finish line on April 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jane Flavell Collins (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
A memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath stands near the race's finish line, on the second day of jury selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, Massachusetts January 6, 2015. The victims remembered are MIT police officer Sean Collier, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Martin Richard. Tsarnaev could get the death penalty if convicted of killing three people and injuring more than 260 others by detonating a pair of homemade bombs placed amid a crowd of thousands of spectators at the race's finish line on April 15, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
BOSTON - MARCH 9: An artist's sketch of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hangs on the wall outside the Moakley courthouse for videographers to record during the Marathon bombing trial. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A courtroom sketch shows accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (C) sitting with his attorneys on the first day of his trail at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jane Flavell Collins (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
A plaid backpack Is seen in this undated handout evidence photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, Massachusetts on March 25, 2015. FBI Special Agent Kenneth Benton testified that he and fellow agents searched the landfill after a college friend of Tsarnaev's took the plaid backpack from the defendant's dorm room and tossed it into a dumpster. REUTERS/U.S. Attorney's Office/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
BOSTON - MARCH 11: Members of the media film evidence from the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Boston Marathon bombing trial on display at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston on March 11, 2015 . (Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: TV cameras line the entrance of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Boston Bomber Trial enters jury deliberations in the sentencing phase of the trail on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including William Fick (from left), Miriam Conrad, Judy Clarke and Timothy Watkins leave John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse after the beginning of jury deliberations in the sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Members of the public line up to enter John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Boston Bomber Trial is slated to start closing arguments on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 11: A protester holds up a sign outside of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Tsarnaev defense nears its end of presenting case in sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 11: Sister Helen Prejean is surrounded by media after testifying at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Tsarnaev defense nears its end of presenting case in sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 04: Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including Miriam Conrad, (from left), Judy Clarke and David Bruck arrive at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the sentencing phase in the Boston Bomber Trial continues on May 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries and his relatives are expected to take the stand to testify. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including (L-R) David Bruck, Timothy G. Watkins and Judy Clarke leave John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the sentencing phase In Boston Bomber Trial continues on April 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including William Fick (L) and Timothy G. Watkins walk away from John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon Bomber Trial on April 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which related in three deaths and over 250 injuries.(Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21: Media and police vechicles are reflected in the entranceway of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon Bomber Trial on April 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 8: The jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty at the Boston Marathon bombing trial at Moakley Federal Court. Bombing survivor Karen Brassard pauses as she answers a question outside the courthouse after the verdict. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: Dana Cohen, (from left), Carlos Arredondo, Karen Brassard, Liz Norden, Laurie Scher and Massport Fire Lt. Michael Ward at a press conference outside of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse following a verdict in the Marathon Bombing case on on April 8, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 4: Opening statements in the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber took place at Moakley Federal Courthouse. A construction crew lowers a form to pour concrete in with the words 'Boston Strong' spray painted on it at a construction site directly across from the courthouse. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 5: Boston Marathon bombing victim, Rebekah Gregory, right, arrived at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where the second day in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway on March 5, 2015. (Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 4: Joe Kebartas of South Boston protests the death penalty outside of the entrance to the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial on March 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction in an attack on the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon along with his brother Tamerlan, who was later killed during a shootout with police. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 4: Jose Briceno, of Cambridge, Mass., protests outside Moakley Federal Courthouse, where opening statements began in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on March 4, 2015. (Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A courtroom sketch shows Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (R) during the jury selection process in his trial at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts January 15, 2015. Tsarnaev, who appeared in court on Thursday wearing a sport jacket and collared shirt, more formally dressed than in last week's appearances, and had trimmed his hair, is also charged with fatally shooting a university police officer three days after the bombing. He has pleaded not guilty. REUTERS/Jane Flavell Collins (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
Fireworks are pictured in this undated handout evidence photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, Massachusetts on March 25, 2015. The jury also saw a photo of a firework, with its powder removed, that was retrieved from a backpack found at a landfill south of Boston. FBI Special Agent Kenneth Benton testified that he and fellow agents searched the landfill after a college friend of Tsarnaev's took the plaid backpack from the defendant's dorm room and tossed it into a dumpster. REUTERS/U.S. Attorney's Office/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
BOSTON - JANUARY 5: A heavy Coast Guard presence was seen in Boston Harbor by the Moakley Federal Courthouse for start of jury selection for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 04: A memorial stands at the site of the first bomb that went off in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 on January 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Jury selection begins tomorrow in the case against Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston Marathon bomber. Tsarnaev has plead 'not guilty' to 30 charges that could result in the death penalty if he is found guilty. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"He was a person who you enjoyed being around," Gordon testified, adding that he would "befriend anybody and help anybody in need."

Jurors were also shown photos of a young Tsarnaev smiling as he learned how to dance, did classroom chores, and cradled a teacher's newborn.

The 21-year-old ethnic Chechen was found guilty this month of killing three people and injuring 264 after he and Tamerlan placed homemade bombs at the marathon's crowded finish line.

The blasts killed Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29. The Tsarnaev brothers shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier three days later.

Tsarnaev's attorneys have sketched for jurors how his immigrant family unraveled in the years before the bombings with his mother and Tamerlan becoming deeply religious.

Becki Norris, who taught at Tsarnaev's middle school, described him as "one of our top students and our top athletes." She said that Tsarnaev's mother later pulled him out of the middle school and sent him to another one. When Norris later ran into Tsarnaev, he shocked her by confessing he had a D in chemistry class.

Prosecutors have painted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an equal partner to his brother in the bombing, citing al Qaeda propaganda found on his computer and a note he wrote that cast the attack as retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim lands.

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and David Gregorio)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job 20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job
Ninja Squirrel Narrowly Escapes Becoming A Hungry Hawk's Dinner With His Unbelievable Ninja Squirrel Narrowly Escapes Becoming A Hungry Hawk's Dinner With His Unbelievable
People Are Stunned When They Found Out What Creature This Horrifying Mouth Belongs To People Are Stunned When They Found Out What Creature This Horrifying Mouth Belongs To