Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton (Joe Burbank/Getty); Prosecutors John Guy and Bernie de la Rionda (Joe Burbank/Getty)

(The Root) — By the time George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, the state of Florida had long since lost its case against him. Possibly several times over.

Maybe it was June 28, the fourth day of testimony, when the prosecution made the risky decision to call to the stand the star witness for the defense. As expected, John Good's testimony laid the foundation for Zimmerman's claim that he shot Trayvon in self-defense. He told jurors he saw the 17-year-old on top of Zimmerman, "throwing down blows" with "ground-and-pound" ferocity.


It might have been over the next two days, when Sanford, Fla., police officer Chris Serino became the rare officer to undermine a prosecution. While he confirmed the state's contention that Zimmerman profiled, followed and showed ill will, hatred and spite toward Trayvon, Serino also said he believed Zimmerman told the truth about Trayvon as the attacker.

The judge ruled that Serino should not have opined about Zimmerman's truthfulness and ordered jurors to disregard it. But, really, who would pretend to not have heard a judgment spoken unequivocally by the shooting's initial lead investigator?

Defeat could well have come when the state rested its case on the ruinous testimony July 5 of Shipping Bao, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy of Trayvon. Repeatedly and defiantly, Bao told jurors he remembered "nothing, zero" about the autopsy, at times appearing to read his answers directly from his personal notes (which he refused to share with the defense until the judge forced him). He also shirked responsibility for his subordinates accused by the defense of improperly storing Trayvon's clothing, which could have degraded the evidence.


The defense possibly ensured Zimmerman's acquittal after the first full day of putting on its case July 9, with the testimony of Dr. Vincent Di Maio. The renowned expert on bullet wounds said the gunpowder marks on Trayvon's clothes and chest indicated that the garments were hanging two to four inches from his body.

The clothing was pulled down by gravity, Di Maio said, indicating that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot. Di Maio also said that the bullet's path into Trayvon's body was consistent with Zimmerman firing from beneath Trayvon.

Di Maio's findings bested those of the state's experts. And the prosecution could not move Di Maio off his conclusions on cross-examination.

As I wrote on Friday, the state never gave jurors a full theory of how the fight between Trayvon and Zimmerman started through to the moment the gun fired.

In addition, the state ignored or overlooked other aspects of the case:

* 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.


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.