WASHINGTON — Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate urged an appeals court Friday to stay his execution, just days before he is due to be put to death, to allow for DNA testing that could prove his innocence.

Hank Skinner, who has been on death row for 16 years, is set to be executed on Wednesday for bludgeoning his girlfriend to death and fatally stabbing two of her children.

The criminal appeals court "should stop the rush to execution so that it can give Mr Skinner's appeal the close attention it deserves," attorney Robert Owen said in a statement, pointing to "powerful and unanswered" questions over whether his client actually committed the crime.

Skinner, who is married to French death penalty activist Sandrine Ageorges, got help from across the Atlantic on Friday when France expressed "concern" and called on Texas to put off the execution.

"As judicial appeals in the state of Texas and at the federal level have not been exhausted, France considers it essential that the November 9 execution date be lifted," the French foreign ministry said.

The latest appeal came after a US District Court judge denied Skinner's third request for DNA testing on Thursday.

Skinner, 49, has not denied being present in the home at the time of the killings but he has insisted that DNA collected at the site could clear him as a suspect in the 1993 crimes.

The state has long refused, citing a restrictive state DNA testing law. But lawmakers made changes to the law this year that lifted many of the restrictions.

Skinner's appeal also garnered further support after over 120,000 people signed an online petition urging Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, to halt his execution.

Most of the signatures on the Change.org petition were added after Thursday's ruling.

"We urge you to uphold the very standards you are promoting as part of a very much needed criminal justice reform and we ask you to demand the withdrawal of the execution warrant and that DNA testing be granted to Mr Skinner in the best possible time," the petition read.

"We trust you to do the right thing for justice and for the truth in Texas, before it is too late."

The US Supreme Court granted a stay of Skinner's execution less than an hour before he was due to be put to death last year. The high court sent the case back to a lower court to rule on Skinner's DNA testing request.

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Photo by Nick DiFonzo from Flickr.