An Alexandria Circuit Court jury acquitted a former Bishop Ireton High School senior yesterday of feloniously assaulting a sophomore, whose brain was bruised with a four-foot rod.

George Qreitem, who was 17 when the April 4 incident occurred, testified yesterday that he hit Patrick Smith, 16, in the school parking lot because "I was afraid. I thought he'd hit me. I was terrified."

Qreitem said Smith harassed him continually: "He used to call me 'big nose' and 'ugly.' "

Qreitem was expelled after the incident. Smith underwent three brain operations but neurosurgeons now say he may not have any permanent damage. But Smith, a former defensive tackle, can never again play contact sports.

Defense attorneys Louis Koutoulakos and Albert Ahern repeatedly told the jury that Qreitem had been "bullied" by Smith and that he had acted in self-defense. Qreitem was provoked, Koutoulakos said, and "Sometimes the pail gets full, the dam breaks."

Several students who witnessed the incident said Smith was "mild-mannered" and not an agitator.

David Galeota, a former classmate of Qreitem's at the all-male Catholic high school, also testified that Qreitem was unusually sensitive. He said Qreitem had a tendency "to fly off the handle . . . he was almost a bit paranoid when people were picking on him."

Smith, who had deep circles under his bespectacled eyes, looked at his family in disbelief when the jury announced its verdict after deliberating three hours.

"It teaches the school kids in this area that whoever carries the biggest stick -- the biggest weapon -- wins," said James V. Smith, the sophomore's father. "There is no justice."