PALMETTO -- The state attorney's office has upped the charges against a man accused of strangling a man he knew, 32-year-old Michael Blue, whose body was found Aug. 30, 2012, in mangroves near a picnic area off U.S. 41 in Palmetto.
James Edward Bates was indicted Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder, said Assistant State Attorney Art Brown, who is prosecuting the case.
Brown said the state was not going to seek the death penalty in the case.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Bates wpi;d be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Bates has been in the Manatee County jail since Sept. 19, 2012, on various related charges, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office website.
Bates originally faced a robbery charge, but a grand jury this week indicted him on a charge of first-degree murder.
"We did originally charge him with second-degree murder, but after further interviews we ultimately decided to up the charge," Brown said Thursday.
Brown said he was not able to comment on what facts in the case led to the new charge.
Bates is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 7, but the defense attorney on the case has other trials and will likely ask for a continuance, Brown added.
According to the Palmetto Police Department's account of the slaying, Blue had his pockets turned inside out and his belongings scattered in the area.
The incident was not ruled a homicide until the state attorney's office reviewed toxicology results.
The medical examiner ruled the death a strangulation, according to Palmetto police.
A witness told officers she and Bates were with Blue at the picnic area. When the two men began to fight, the woman told officers she left the area and went to a car.
Bates came back to the car and told the woman that he had rendered Blue temporarily unconscious by choking him, according to the police report.
The woman told officers that Bates returned with items she believed belonged to Blue.
The woman also told police, "that killing Blue was never part of the plan," the report states.
Brown said Blue's Manatee County family has maintained close contact with the state attorney's office.
"I have met with them and provided them with information," Brown said. "We have discussed the case in person or on the phone several times."
Brown said the witnesses were important to the case.
"There were some individuals who came forward," Brown said.
Deputy Chief Scott Tyler of the Palmetto Police Department on Thursday said he was pleased that the state attorney was moving forward with the case.
"I remember the victim was found in the mangroves at the foot of the DeSoto bridge," Tyler said. "He was a Manatee County resident and has quite a few family members here. He knew the person who killed him. I would rather not comment on the circumstances or motive at this time. We will let it come out at trial."
Tyler said he had no problem with Brown upping the second degree charge that Palmetto Police originally asked for.
"We are happy a grand jury agrees with first-degree murder," Tyler said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072.