Why is it that the liberal elite, which is supposed to be the faction that truly cares about women, can’t muster up any sympathy for Laci Peterson, killed by her own husband along with her son, Conner, who was only three weeks away from birth, on Christmas Eve two years ago? An abused wife, actually a fatally abused wife whose husband was convicted of dumping her body into the San Francisco Bay so that he could spend more time with his mistress sounds like a natural candidate for liberal sympathies–but noooooo.

First the dead Laci got the cold shoulder from liberals when Congress passed and President Bush signed “Laci and Conner’s Law” earlier this year, a federal statute that applies to the entire nation what is already the legal mandate in Laci’s home state of California: that it’s two crimes, not one, to assault or kill a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Laci’s mother, Sharon Rocha, testified before Congress in favor of Laci and Conner’s Law–but woudn’t you know, the liberals opposed it, on the ground that it might somehow or other impair someone’s abortion rights, even though the law contains a specific exemption for legal abortion.

Now, Laci’s convicted killer, 32-year-old Scott Peterson, is before the jury again in the second phase of his murder trial, the phase in which the jury decides whether to recommend capital punishment or life in prison for him. The jury is supposed to base its decision on the existence of such criteria as aggravating factors: Was the crime particularly heinous? Frankly, the killing, likely by bludgeoning, of the pretty, vivacious Laci on the day before Christmas sounds pretty darned heinous to me. I’m not surprised that some jurors wept in the courtroom over the killing of this 27-year-old woman and the little boy who would be looking forward to his second birthday in January had he lived.

But according to Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, we’re not supposed to cry over Laci–because that’s too “emotional” a response to this ghastly crime, and oh, by the way, we might actually come to believe that Scott Peterson deserves to fry. This would fly in the face of the liberal maxim that the death penalty is Always Bad. Lithwick writes:

“Whether Scott Peterson lives or dies may well come down to whether the jury believes Laci’s family is ultimately more tragic than his.

“The notion that there is a place in the chilly, linear life of the law for this sort of sentimentality–the unrestrained id of emotion untethered from logic–is beyond strange. The idea that in order to decide whether a criminal deserves the ‘ultimate punishment’ a jury must abandon reason and clarity for emotion and intuition inverts everything the law otherwise represents. When else do we contend, as a society, that people exercise fantastic judgment at that moment when they are sobbing and gasping for breath?….

“This shift makes perfect sense if you accept that the only real justification for capital punishment is vengeance. Executions are far too rare and too capricious to have a real deterrent effect on criminals. And the case for capital punishment as a cure for recidivism is equally supported by the prospect of life imprisonment. The real reason for capital punishment, then, is vengeance–an eye for an eye–both societal and for the victims. And whether one accepts this as a valid rationale for executing killers or not, the fact is that vengeance is an emotional response. For suffering to be matched by suffering, jurors must weigh not facts, but human pain.”

I hate to say this, Dahlia, but the “only real justification for capital punishment” isn’t “vengeance.” It’s retribution–deciding what sort of price a convicted killer ought to pay to society for his crime. And when the crime is particularly repulsive–such as, say, the fact that the victims were an 8-month-pregnant woman and her unborn child, a woman, by the way, to whom the killer had made vows to love, honor, and protect all the days of her life, and a child, by the way who was the killer’s own son–maybe the killer should pay the price of his own life. Deciding whether capital punishment is appropriate for Scott Peterson isn’t giving into an “emotional response.” It’s making a rational finding of what sort of justice should be done. The idea that this sort of decision involves nothing more than “sentimentality” is worse than absurd–it implies that we should cut Scott Peterson slack because some jurors were moved to tears over the outrage that he was convicted of visiting upon his wife.

But so far Laci Peterson just can’t get any sympathy from the liberal elite, which, when it comes to the death penalty always seems to prefer a cold-blooded male killer to his murdered wife. Talk about “sentimentality.”