BUSINESS
02/10/2013 03:43 pm ET | Updated Feb 12, 2013

FedEx Pulls Startup Conference Sponsorship Over 'West Memphis Three' Speaker (UPDATED)

An entrepreneurship conference in Memphis, Tenn., was jeopardized after FedEx revoked its sponsorship to distance itself from one of the speakers, but the event is going ahead as planned today, conference founder Kyle Sandler told The Huffington Post.

The shipping giant was in line to be the largest sponsor of EverywhereElse.co: The Startup Conference, a three-day festival focused on entrepreneurship. On Wednesday, the Memphis-based company officially quit by email, pinpointing the problem as a speaker "polarizing" to the Memphis community, Sandler said by phone.

According to Sandler, the unnamed speaker was Damien Echols, one of the men known as the "West Memphis Three." Echols and and two others were convicted for the 1993 murders of three cub scouts in West Memphis. Echols spent 17 years on death row before he and his co-defendants were exonerated in 2011, at the conclusion of a high-profile campaign promoting their innocence.

FedEx spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu confirmed to The Huffington Post that Echols was a source of the company's concern and called the issue one of brand management. "You want to make sure that all elements match your brand. That particular speaker, we have concerns with," she said.

Sandler didn't expect the conference could go on without FedEx's support, but enough private Memphis-based investors pledged money over the span of two days to save operations, he said.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post received an email Monday from Damien Echols' defense team with a transcript of a letter sent to FedEx. In it, Echols writes, "I am blessed to have the support of hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe, from New Zealand to Norway, many who worked tirelessly to free Jason, Jesse and me. After close to 20 years imprisoned on death row, I have endured greater hardships than FEDEX making a rash decision without knowing very much about my case. It is more a measure FEDEX's lack of corporate integrity and decency than it is about my struggle to clear my name."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated that all members of the West Memphis Three received the same sentence. Only Damien Echols was sentenced to death row.

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