BOSTON -- One of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's former middle school teachers wrote on Facebook that "I still love him" even though the convicted Boston Marathon bomber "did the unforgivable."
It was the second time that Becki Norris spoke up for Tsarnaev, 21, on Wednesday. Earlier that day, the current Community Charter School of Cambridge principal testified in Tsarnaev's trial that when he was her seventh- and eighth-grade student, he was "a really hard-working, smart kid" with a seemingly bright future in front of him.
Tsarnaev's life, of course, went in a vastly different direction than what Norris had forecast. He and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, detonated two bombs that killed three and wounded 264 others at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, and days later killed a police officer across the Charles River in Cambridge.
"Over the past two years, I've discovered the painful truth that when you care deeply for someone, that doesn't stop even if they do unfathomably horrible things," Norris wrote on Facebook. "Yes, he did the unforgivable. And yes, I still love him. And -- this one is hard to fathom, I know -- he still needs love."
Her words qualified as a rare public display of support for Tsarnaev, one of the country's most vilified criminals. She sensed that many people might be puzzled by her position.
"Ask yourself what you would think or do if someone you loved and cared about walked far, far down a deadly path," she said.
Norris' entire message appears below beneath a photo of her notorious former pupil as a baby-faced youngster holding her newborn daughter.
In at least one other example, a witness described on Facebook her intense feelings toward Tsarnaev -- though they were less complimentary.
Bombing victim Rebekah Gregory shared a widely circulated letter denouncing Tsarnaev as "a coward" who wouldn't make eye contact with her while she testified in March about losing her leg from the attack.
"[N]ow to me you're a nobody," Gregory wrote, "and it is official that you have lost."
The defense team is trying to save Tsarnaev from the death penalty. After a jury convicted him on 30 charges on April 8, the trial entered the penalty phase in which the same jurors will either sentence him to be executed or imprisoned without the possibility of parole. The prosecution has already made its case for the death penalty.
The defense has tried to convince jurors not to execute Tsarnaev, saying Tamerlan -- who died in a shootout with Watertown, Massachusetts, police -- was the mastermind of the bombing and coerced his younger brother into taking part.
Lawyers for Tsarnaev put several of his other teachers in the witness box, as well as two friends from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he'd faltered academically but maintained a reputation as kind and generous friend. Relatives flown in from Russia are expected to testify on Monday.
Tsarnaev was one of the best students and athletes in the Cambridge charter school until his mother removed him because of a dispute about the school uniform, Norris testified. From the stand, Norris made eye contact with Tsarnaev and they even smiled at each other
"He was already rightly found guilty. I testified to help the jury see why he might be spared the death penalty. I also hoped to show him, in spite of what he's done, that someone cares about him as a person," Norris wrote. "I don't expect to ever see him again. I will hold onto those moments, and I hope he does too."
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