Zimmerman Trial: State Lost From the Start

The prosecution's handling of the case remained a compelling curiosity during the entire trial.

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* The state did not aggressively challenge Zimmerman's account that Trayvon repeatedly bashed his head against the concrete. State experts were effective in showing that Zimmerman's head lacerations were minor and not life-threatening. And no witness testified to having seen Trayvon slam Zimmerman's head. Yet the prosecution steered clear.

* The state did not focus early, with evidence and testimony, on what is called the "physical impossibility" of how Zimmerman said he pulled his gun. His self-defense argument was based on his claim that Trayvon reached, and perhaps grabbed, the gun, forcing him to draw it and fire. In a re-enactment video for police, Zimmerman demonstrated his gun as holstered toward his rear, tucked inside his pants and covered by his jacket. Not until its closing argument did the prosecution suggest that if Zimmerman was pinned on his back, the gun would have been beneath his body and hidden from Trayvon's view and reach. The prosecution, in its rebuttal to the defense's closing, said it would have been impossible for Zimmerman to reach behind himself and draw the gun. But, by then, it was a passing reference.

* The state did not question why Trayvon's body was found in the grass several feet from the sidewalk's edge where Trayvon allegedly was straddling Zimmerman as he was shot.

On the issue of race, both sides insisted it was irrelevant to the case. Special Prosecutor Angela Corey said as much again Saturday, but offered a clumsy hedge.

"This case has never been about race," Corey told reporters after the verdict. "But Trayvon Martin was profiled. There is no doubt that he was profiled to be a criminal. And if race was one of the aspects in George Zimmerman's mind, then we believe that we put out the proof necessary to show that Zimmerman did profile Trayvon Martin."

The jury didn't agree. But the defense effectively used racial innuendo. Defense attorney Mark O'Mara called to the stand Olivia Bertalan, a former neighbor of Zimmerman's, who described a break-in at her home by a pair of young black men while she and her baby were upstairs. The crime occurred six months before Trayvon's death.

As skillful as the defense proved to be, the state's handling of the case remained a compelling curiosity to the end -- down to Corey's reaction to the acquittal. In the face of a high-profile defeat, she addressed reporters with an oddly upbeat tone and smile.

 "We are so proud to stand before you and to tell that when we announced the charges 15 months ago, we also promised that we would seek the truth for Trayvon Martin and due process for George Zimmerman," Corey said, "and that we would get all of the facts and details of this very difficult case before a jury."

It is notable that she never promised a conviction.

Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.