PRINCETON — Two Princeton women facing false informing charges in Gibson County Circuit in connection to an alleged abduction hoax last month appeared for an initial hearing Wednesday morning.

Hannah Potts, 24, and Maria S. Hopper, 34, entered an initial plea of not guilty.

Both requested a court-appointed attorney and were ordered to pay a one-time payment of $50 into the supplemental Public Defender Fund due within 30 days.

Pre-trial hearings were set for both parties at 9 a.m. Aug. 26.

The two women, along with 45-year-old Joshua Thomas, were arrested after Gibson County Prosecutor Michael Cochren filed class A misdemeanor false informing charges against them in connection to the planning and executing of an abduction hoax in rural Princeton.

Thomas appeared in Gibson County Superior Court for an initial hearing Wednesday.

He requested court-appointed counsel and was ordered to pay $50.00 to the Supplemental Public Defender’s Fund.

A status hearing was set for 9 a.m. Sept. 28.

Potts was believed to be missing from the Top Hat Road area starting July 24 and was located by Gibson County Sheriff’s deputies July 26, unharmed. Volunteers searched the area July 25 following a social media appeal from her family for information about her whereabouts.

Potts was found at Hopper’s home.

July 26, according to the affidavit of probable cause, Gibson County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Roger Ballard and deputies went to Hopper’s home on Top Hat Road to speak with Hopper, who again told authorities she hadn’t spoken to or seen Potts and didn’t know her whereabouts. Ballard said he also spoke to Thomas, who told police he had not seen or heard from Potts.

Ballard reported that he asked permission to search Hopper’s home and Hopper said Potts was not in the home, but agreed to the search and let Ballard through the house. While in the kitchen, Ballard reported he noted a stairway leading to a basement and asked Hopper about it. According to the affidavit, Hopper said it was a partial basement and there wasn’t anything down there, but led them to the basement.

Ballard reported finding a piece of plywood blocking a small enclosed space in the basement, containing a lock on it. He said he asked about it and Hopper told him that it was “an area that was just full of spiders.”

According to the affidavit, after unlatching the hasp on the plywood, Hopper admitted that Potts was hiding there.

Ballard described the place Potts was hiding was a 4x5x5 coal cellar-type spot covered in foam padding on the roof and inside of the door. “After being ordered to show herself, Hannah Potts then uncovered herself from the back corner of the area. Hannah Potts was wearing a fully functioning handcuff on her right wrist, and also had fully functioning shackles binding her ankles,” he reported.

Ballard said Potts told them she was not being held against her will and wanted to remain where she was, but after some conversation, she removed herself and was interviewed at the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office.

In the interview, Ballard reports that Potts told police she had been planning a kidnapping event with Hopper for at least a week. He said Potts told police “she wanted to have this experience for research purposes in a manuscript that she was writing,” and told police Hopper and Thomas were characters in her story.

Ballard’s affidavit says Potts told police that she rehearsed the post she made to Facebook for a week, and that Hopper and and Thomas set up the room she would be staying in. She told police she rode in the passenger seat of Hopper’s vehicle and posted the video from Hopper’s home, then gave the phone to Hopper for her to break it, and she (Potts) cut up the phone SIM card. Ballard reported that Potts told police she placed the handcuffs and shackles on herself, and was provided food, snacks and drinks by Hopper.

In an interview with police, Ballard reports Hopper admitted that she picked Potts up and lied to police during the investigation, and Thomas told police he had knowledge of the “kidnapping” idea and knew Hopper went to pick Potts up, and that Potts was in the house.

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