John Allen Muhammad, already condemned to die in Virginia, will soon be transferred to Maryland for prosecution by the county where the 2002 sniper shootings cut their widest swath.

A judge in Virginia ordered yesterday that Muhammad be moved to Montgomery County, where he and Lee Boyd Malvo have been indicted on murder charges in six slayings. Sussex County Circuit Court Judge W. Allan Sharrett did not set a date for the transfer, which Muhammad had challenged.

Lyndia Person Ramsey, Sussex County's commonwealth attorney, said Muhammad would be moved to Maryland "probably immediately." Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight said the transfer "could come today, it could come tomorrow, it could come Monday."

Six of the 10 Washington area sniper slayings were in Montgomery, including the first and the last. If convicted, Malvo could face six consecutive life terms in prison, and Muhammad could face the death penalty.

Both have been convicted in Virginia. Muhammad, 44, has been sentenced to death for a sniper killing in Prince William County, and Malvo, 20, was found guilty of a sniper killing in Fairfax County and sentenced to life in prison.

Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler has said that prosecution of the two is necessary in the county as an "insurance policy" in case they are freed on appeal. Maryland officials have agreed to return Muhammad and Malvo to Virginia once their trials in Maryland are complete.

Estimates of the cost of prosecuting the men in Maryland vary widely. Kight's office has said securing the courthouse could cost nearly $400,000, while Gansler has said he expects the additional expense to be "minimal." The trials of Malvo and Muhammad cost Virginia taxpayers approximately $3 million.

Malvo has been jailed in Montgomery since May 25. Muhammad, however, refused to sign paperwork needed to send him to Maryland.

One of his attorneys, Peter Greenspun, argued unsuccessfully yesterday that the agreement under which his client would be moved, essentially a contract between the two states' governors, violates other laws controlling the interstate transfers of suspects.

Ramsey said the issue before the court was far more narrow, involving only such questions as whether Muhammad is, in fact, the person charged in Maryland.

Malvo and Muhammad were indicted in the slayings of James D. Martin, 55; James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54; Sarah Ramos, 34; Lori Lewis Rivera, 25; and Conrad E. Johnson, 35.

Staff writer Fulvio Cativo also contributed to this report.

A van transporting John Allen Muhammad arrives at the Sussex County courthouse, where a judge ordered that he be moved to Montgomery.Muhammad was sentenced to death in Virginia.